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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Wheel Of Life - Part 4. Reconciliation - Chapter 4. Shows That True Love Is True Service
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The Wheel Of Life - Part 4. Reconciliation - Chapter 4. Shows That True Love Is True Service Post by :Teresa Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :2258

Click below to download : The Wheel Of Life - Part 4. Reconciliation - Chapter 4. Shows That True Love Is True Service (Format : PDF)

The Wheel Of Life - Part 4. Reconciliation - Chapter 4. Shows That True Love Is True Service

PART IV. RECONCILIATION
CHAPTER IV. SHOWS THAT TRUE LOVE IS TRUE SERVICE

On the evening of the day upon which Laura was to have been married, Adams went, as usual, into his study and lit the green lamp upon his desk; but his mind was so filled with the mystery of her absence that even the pretence of distraction became unendurable. Since the news of her broken engagement and her flight had reached him, he had spent three days in a fruitless, though still hopeful, search for her; and the nights when he was forced to relax his efforts were filled with agonised imaginings of her loneliness at so great a distance and yet in reality so near. From the moment that he had heard through Gerty of her disappearance, there had ceased to exist all uncertainty as to the position in which he now stood to her; and he reproached himself, as he remembered her visit to his office, because he had failed then to take into his hands a decision which from an external view appeared so little to affect him.

But the external view, he realised, was nothing to him to-night. On that last day he had penetrated beneath the shallow surface of the conventions, and he had read in her tormented heart the whole story of the bitter disillusionment which she did not dare to put in words. Her imagination, he saw, had created an ideal lover in Kemper's shape, and in the moment of her awakening she had turned away not from the falsehood, but from the truth. "Though he is not what I loved yet I will still love him!" her heart had cried, in a subjection to the old false feminine belief that faithfulness to a mistaken ideal is not weakness but virtue. Yet in the end she had fled from that ultimate choice between the higher and the lower nature. How could she have lived on a lie when her spirit had forged so clear a path of truth before her?

Rising from his chair he walked for a few minutes rapidly up and down the room. How far or how near was she to-night? Had she remembered him in her misery? Would God reveal Himself to her in the most terrible hour? His trust in her final deliverance was so great that even as he put the questions, he knew in his heart that she was one of those who, in the end, "win their own souls through perseverance." His eyes fell on her picture above his desk, and then turning away rested on Connie's which stood where he had placed it in the first years of his marriage. Connie and her life with him was like a half-forgotten dream to him now, yet, looking back upon it, he could not tell himself that there had been for him no gain of strength, for Connie no growth of understanding, in the pitiless failure of their marriage. All was softened in his memory by that last afternoon when he had seen the shame of experience wiped from her face as they combed her hair straight back from her forehead in the old childish fashion; and he had realised from that instant that a soul had come to birth in the hour before her death. A single ray of the divine light had dispelled the thick darkness, and her blind eyes were opened for one minute before she closed them to the body forever. Was that one minute not worth every heart throb he had suffered and every difficult hope for which he had battled in his thoughts? Having looked though for a fleeting glimpse only upon the unity of life, was not her spirit's growth measured in the instant of that flashing vision? For God had worked here--had worked in the pity of his heart, as well as in the awakening gratitude in Connie's; and because of the deeper insight he had attained, he could look back over the whole sordid tragedy and discern one of those steep and arduous roads by which the spirit mounts to enlightenment through the flesh. And if this were so here--if in ugliness such as this he could find beauty, was it not one and the same over the broad field of human effort? Had not his own life proved to him that let a man's eyes be opened, and even in the depths of abasement he may look in his soul and discover God?

And Laura? His heart was flooded with tenderness, and he felt again a confident, an almost mystic assurance that her destiny was one with his. In this growing conviction his anxiety appeared to him suddenly as a pitiable and cowardly denial of his faith--and he was possessed by the certainty that he had only to send out his will in order to smooth the way of her return to peace.

The room had become warm, and opening the window he stood looking beyond the housetops to the stars which shone dimly over the city. The noise in the streets grew fainter in his ears, and as he stood there with his eyes on the stars, he could tell himself in the joy of his reconciliation, that the law by which they moved gloriously toward their end was the law which controlled his own and Laura's life. The sense which is less a belief than an intimate knowledge of immortality belonged to him now, and he realised that so far as he lived at all he lived not in the hour alone, but in eternity, that so far as he had won peace it was bound up in a passionate conviction of the survival of the universe within his soul. To-day or to-morrow, in the minute or in eternity, he saw that wherever God is there will always be immortal life.

Turning back into the room he looked again at Laura's picture with a longing which had not freed itself as yet from the idea of renouncement. Even now he realised that he had been strong enough to live without her, and with the admission, he was aware again of that wider sympathy which had been his compensation in a forefeiture of personal love. His happiness he had told himself a year ago depended neither upon possession nor upon any passage of events, yet to-night his heart strained after her in a tenderness which seemed to bring her visible presence before him in the room. His love for her appeared not only as a part of his love for God, but as a part, also, of his sorrows, his bitter patience, his renouncement and of the compassion which had sprung from the agony and the enlightenment of his failure. Sorrow he could still feel--the deepest human grief might be his portion to-morrow, but while this unfading light shone in his soul, he knew that it was ordained that he should conquer in the end. By this knowledge alone he had at last won through suffering into the open places of the spirit where were joy and freedom.

A ring at the bell startled him from his abstraction, and with an impatient eagerness for news, he hastened to the door, where a boy thrust at him a small folded sheet of paper. As he opened it he felt that his had trembled, for even before he read the words, he knew that Laura's appeal to him had come.

"I need a friend. Will you help me?" was all that she had written.

He motioned the boy to come inside, and then stood looking at him enquiringly as he got into his overcoat.

"Do you go back with me?" he asked.

The boy nodded while he pulled at a scarlet handkerchief about his neck. Adams noticed that though he was stunted and anaemic in appearance, he wore his shabby overcoat with an almost rakish swagger. His mouth was filled with chewing-gum which he rolled aside in his cheek when he talked.

"Is it far?" Adams enquired in a hopeless effort to extort information however meagre.

The boy looked important, almost mysterious.

"Yep," he responded, adding immediately, "She's the other side of the ferry."

"Do you mean the lady?" He opened the door, and hurried to the sidewalk where he stopped to call a cab from the corner.

"She's been there three nights, so tired she couldn't move," replied the boy, as he followed Adams into the cab. "A fine lady, too," he commented with a wink.

"Well, she's all right now, and I'm much obliged to you," said Adams, but he asked no further questions until they were seated side by side in the ferry, when he tried again to draw out the bare facts of Laura's flight.

During the walk through the town and along the country road, he learned that Laura had reached the house of the boy's mother in an exhaustion of mind and body which had compelled them to harbour her for the night. On the next day her appearance and the money with which she was supplied had so won upon the mother's sympathy that her desire to remain a few days longer had been met almost with eagerness by the older woman. When he had, with difficulty, extracted this account of what had passed, Adams fell a little ahead of his companion, and they went on in silence until they came, at the end of several miles, in sight of the cottage withdrawn from the roadside in its clump of trees. A single lighted window was visible through the bared boughs, and standing out clearly from the interior, Adams saw a dark figure which his heart recognised with a bound.

The boy pushed back the gate and Adams went up the path inside, and entering the house opened the door of the room in which he had seen Laura standing. She was still there, motionless in the lamplight, and as he went toward her she lifted her eyes and gazed back at him in the mute defiance which is the outward expression of despair.

"Do you think you have been quite just to me, Laura?" he asked, not tenderly, but with a stern and reproachful face.

Without lowering her eyes she looked at him while she shook her head.

"I sent for you because I could not help it. I had nowhere to go," she said.

"Do you think you have been just to me?" he asked again.

"You? I never thought of you until to-day," she answered. "I came here because I had to go somewhere--it did not matter where. I was too tired to walk any farther, so they were very good to me."

"And you have let us search for you three days." His voice was constrained, but as he looked into her wan face between the loosened waves of her hair, his heart melted over her in an agony of tenderness. Every drop of blood appeared to have left her body, which was so pallid that he seemed to see the light shining through her drawn features.

"So they have been looking for me?" she observed, with but little interest.

"What did you expect?" he questioned in his turn.

"But I didn't want to be found--I would rather stay lost," she responded. Shrinking away from him she went to the window and stood there, pressed closely against the panes, as if in a blind impulse to put the space of the room between them. "I will not go back even now--I will not go back," she insisted.

As he entered he had closed the door behind him, and leaning against it now, he looked at her with a flicker of his quiet smile.

"I'm not talking about going back, am I?" he rejoined. "Heaven knows you may stay here if you like the place." He glanced quickly about the crudely furnished little room hung with cheap crayon portraits. "It's rather hard, though, to fit you into these surroundings," he remarked with a flash of humour.

She shook her head. "They suit me as well as any other."

"And the people who live here?--What of them?"

"I like them because they are so near to the ground," she answered, "they've no surface of culture, or personality, or convention to bother one--they've no surface, indeed, of any kind."

"Well, it's all very interesting," he remarked, smiling, "but, in common decency, don't you think you might have sent me word?"

"I never thought of you an instant," she replied.

"You never thought of me in your life," he retorted, "and yet when I say I'm better worth your thinking of than Kemper--God knows I don't pretend to boast."

A weaker man would have hesitated over the name, but he had seen at the first glance that the way to save her was not by softness, and his lips, after he had uttered the word, closed tightly like the lips of a surgeon who applies the knife.

"Don't speak to me of him!" she cried out sharply, "I had forgotten!"

Her eyes hung upon his in a returning agony, and it was through this agony alone that he hoped to bring back her consciousness of life.

"This is not the way to forget," he answered, "you are not a coward, yet you have chosen the cowardly means. There can he no forgetfulness until you are strong enough to admit the truth to your own heart--to say 'there is no mistake that is final, no wrong done that has power to crush me.'"

"But there is no truth in my heart," she answered, with sudden energy, "it is all a lie--I am a lie all over, and it makes no difference because I have ceased to care. I used to think that people only died when they were put in coffins, but I know now that you can be dead and yet move and walk about and even laugh and pretend to be like all the rest--some of whom are dead also. And I didn't die slowly," she added, with a vague impersonal interest, which impressed him as almost delirious in its detachment, "I wasn't killed in a year, but in a minute. One instant I was quite alive--as alive as you are now--and the next I was as dead as if I had been buried centuries ago."

"And who is to blame for this?" he demanded, white to the lips.

"Oh, it wasn't he--it was life," she went on calmly, "he couldn't help it, nor could I--nobody can help anything. Do you understand that?" she asked, with the searching mental clearness which seemed always lying behind her dazed consciousness, "that we're all drawn by wires like puppets, and the strongest wire pulls us in the direction in which we are meant to go? It's curious that I should never have known this before because it has become perfectly plain to me now--there is no soul, no aspiration, no motive for good or evil, for we're every one worked by wires while we are pretending to move ourselves."

"All right, but it's my turn at the wire now," responded Adams, smiling.

At his words she broke out into little hard dry sobs, which had in them none of the softness of tears. "Nobody is to blame for anything," she repeated, still striving, in a dazed way, to be just to Kemper.

Even more than her face and her voice, this pathetic groping of her reason, moved him into a passion of sympathy; and while he looked at her, he resisted an impulse to gather her, in spite of her coldness, against his breast.

"What is it, Laura, that has made you suffer like this?" he asked.

But his words made no impression upon her, perhaps because they could not penetrate the outer husk of deadness which enveloped her.

"Do you know what it is to feel ashamed?" she demanded suddenly, "to feel ashamed, not in a passing quiver, but in a settled state every instant that you live? Do you know what it is to have every sensation of your body merged into this one feeling of shame--to be ashamed with your eyes and hands and feet as well as with your mind and heart and soul? I could have stood anything but this," she added, pressing closer against the window.

An exclamation which was almost one of anger burst from him, and going to where she stood, he laid his hand upon her arm as if in the effort to recall her reason by physical force. But with his first touch his grasp lost its energy and grew gentle, for her anguish appeared to him, as he held her, to be only the instinctive crying out of a child that is hurt. His hold slipped from her arm, and taking her hands, he bent over and kissed them until they lay quiet in his own.

"Laura, do you trust my love for you?" he asked.

"I trust you, yes," she answered, "but not love--it is only one of the wires by which we are moved."

"Trust anything you please about me, so long as you trust--that is all I ask," he let her hands fall from his and looked into her face. "Promise me that you will be here waiting when I return."

"There's no place for me to go--I shall be here," she answered.

Her eyes followed him with a pathetic child-like fear while he crossed the room and went out leaving her alone.

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