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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Five - Chapter 52
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Together - Part Five - Chapter 52 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :1922

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Together - Part Five - Chapter 52

PART FIVE CHAPTER LII

Did he know that he had virtually lost when at the end of his brief vacation he went back to the city, leaving his rival alone in the field? During those tense days Vickers's admiration for the man grew. He was good tempered and considerate, even of Cairy. Lane had always been a pleasant host, and now instead of avoiding Cairy he seemed to seek his society, made an effort to talk to him about his work, and advised him shrewdly in a certain transaction with a theatrical manager.

"If she should go away with Cairy," Vickers said to himself, "he will look out for them always!"

Husband and wife, so Vickers judged, did not talk together during all this time. Perhaps they did not dare to meet the issue openly. At any rate when Isabelle proposed driving John to the station the last night, he said kindly, "It's raining, my dear,--I think you had better not." So he kissed her in the hall before the others, made some commonplace suggestion about the place, and with his bag in hand left, nodding to them all as he got into the carriage. Isabelle, who had appeared dazed these days, as if, her heart and mind occupied in desperate inner struggle, her body lived mechanically, left the two men to themselves and went to her room. And shortly afterwards Cairy, who had become subdued, thoughtful, pleaded work and went upstairs.

* * * * *

When Vickers rose early the next morning, the country was swathed in a thin white mist. The elevation on which the house stood just pierced the fog, and, here and there below, the head of a tall pine emerged. Vickers had slept badly with a suffocating sense of impending danger. When he stepped out of the drawing-room on the terrace, the coolness of the damp fog and the stillness of the June morning not yet broken by bird notes soothed his troubled mind. All this silent beauty, serenely ordered nature--and tumultuous man! Out of the earthy elements of which man was compounded, he had sucked passions which drove him hither and yon.... As he walked towards the west garden, the window above the terrace opened, and Isabelle, dressed in her morning clothes, looked down on her brother.

"I heard your step, Vick," she said in a whisper. Her face in the gray light was colorless, and her eyes were dull, veiled. "Wait for me, Bud!"

In a few moments she appeared, covered with a gray cloak, a soft saffron-colored veil drawn about her head. Slipping one hand under his arm,--her little fingers tightening on his flesh,--she led the way through the garden to the beech copse, which was filled with mist, then down to the stone bench, where she and Cairy had sat that other afternoon.

"How still it is!" she murmured, shivering slightly. She looked back to the copse, vague in the mist, and said: "Do you remember the tent we had here in the summers? We slept in it one night.... It was then I used to say that I was going to marry you, brother, and live with you for always because nobody else could be half so nice.... I wish I had! Oh, how I wish I had! We should have been happy, you and I. And it would have been better for both of us."

She smiled at him wanly. He understood the reference she made to his misadventure, but said nothing. Suddenly she leaned her head on his shoulder.

"Vick, dear, do you think that any one could care enough to forgive everything? Do you love me enough, so you would love me, no matter what I did? ... That's real love, the only kind, that loves because it must and forgives because it loves! Could you, Vick? Could you?"

Vickers smoothed back her rumpled hair and drew the veil over it.

"You know that nothing would make any difference to me."

"Ah, you don't know! But perhaps you could--" Then raising her head she spoke with a harder voice. "But that's weak. One must expect to pay for what one does,--pay everything. Oh, my God!"

The fog had retreated slowly from their level. They stood on the edge looking into its depth. Suddenly Vickers exclaimed with energy:--

"You must end this, Isabelle! It will kill you."

"I wish it might!"

"End it!" and he added slowly, "Send him away--or let me take you away!"

"I--I--can't,--Vick!" she cried. "It has got beyond me.... It is not just for myself--just me. It's for _him_, too. He needs me. I could do so much for him! And here I can do nothing."

"And John?"

"Oh, John! He doesn't care, really--"

"Don't say that!"

"If he did--"

"Isabelle, he saw you and Tom, here, the afternoon Tom came!"

She flushed and drew herself away from her brother's arms.

"I know it--it was the first time that--that anything happened! ... If he cared, why didn't he say something then, do something, strike me--"

"That is not right, Belle; you know he is not that kind of animal."

"If a man cares for a woman, he hasn't such godlike control! ... No, John wants to preserve appearances, to have things around him smooth,--he's too cold to care!"

"That's ungenerous."

"Haven't I lived with him years enough to know what is in his heart? He hates scandal. That's his nature,--he doesn't want unpleasant words, a fuss. There won't be any, either.... But I'm not the calculating kind, Vick. If I do it, I do it for the whole world to know and to see. I'm not Conny,--no sneaking compromises; I'll do it as you did it,--for the whole world to see and know."

"But you'll not do it!"

"You think I haven't the courage? You don't know me, Vick. I am not a girl any longer. I am thirty-two, and I know life _now_, my life at any rate.... It was all wrong between John and me from the beginning,--yes, from the beginning!"

"What makes you say that! You don't really believe it in your heart. You loved John when you married him. You were happy with him afterwards."

"I don't believe that any girl, no matter what experience she has had, can really love a man before she is married to him. I was sentimental, romantic, and I thought my liking for a man was love. I wanted to love,--all girls do. But I didn't know enough to love. It is all blind, blind! I might have had that feeling about other men, the feeling I had for John before.... Then comes marriage, and it's luck, all luck, whether love comes, whether it is right--the thing for you--the only one. Sometimes it is,--often enough for those who don't ask much, perhaps. But it was _wrong for John and me. I knew it from the first days,--those when we tried to think we were happiest. I have never confessed this to a human being,--never to John. But it was so, Vick! I didn't know then what was the matter--why it was wrong. But a woman suspects then.... Those first days I was wretched,--I wanted to cry out to him: 'Can't you see it is wrong? You and I must part; our way is not the same!' But he seemed content. And there was father and mother and everything to hold us to the mistake. And of course I felt that it might come in time, that somehow it was my fault. I even thought that love as I wanted it was impossible, could never exist for a woman.... So the child came, and I went through the motions. And the gap grew between us each year as I came to be a woman. I saw the gap, but I thought it was always so, almost always, between husbands and wives, and I went on going through the motions.... That was why I was ill,--yes, the real reason, because we were not fitted to be married. Because I tried to do something against nature,--tried to live married to a man who wasn't really my husband!"

Her voice sank exhausted. Never before even to herself had she said it all,--summed up that within her which must justify her revolt. Vickers felt the hot truth to her of her words; but granted the truth, was it enough?

Before he could speak she went on wearily, as if compelled:--

"But it might have gone on so until the end, until I died. Perhaps I could have got used to it, living like that, and fussed around like other women over amusements and charities and houses,--all the sawdust stuffing of life--and become a useless old woman, and not cared, not known."

She drew a deep breath.

"But you see--I know _now_--what the other is! I have known since"--her voice sank to a whisper--"that afternoon when I kissed him for the first time." She shuddered. "I am not a stick, Vick! I--am a woman! ... No, don't say it!" She clasped his arm tightly. "You don't like Tom. You can't understand. He may not be what I feel he is--he may be less of a man for men than John. But I think it makes little difference to a woman so long as she loves--what the man is to others. To her he is _all men!"

With this cry her voice softened, and now she spoke calmly. "And you see I can give him something! I can give HIM love and joy. And more--I could make it possible for him to do what he wants to do with his life. I would go with him to some beautiful spot, where he could be all that he has it in him to be, and I could watch and love. Oh, we should be enough, he and I!"

"Dear, that you can never tell! ... It was not enough for us--for her. You can't tell when you are like this, ready to give all, whether it's what the other most needs or really wants."

In spite of Isabelle's doubting smile, Vickers hurried on,--willing now to show his scar.

"I have never told you how it was over there all these years. I could not speak of it.... I thought _we should be enough, as you say. We had our love and our music.... But we weren't enough, almost from the start. She was unhappy. She really wanted those things we had given up, which she might have had if it had been otherwise--I mean if she had been my wife. I was too much of a fool to see that at once. I didn't want divorce and marriage--there were difficulties in the way, too. We had thrown over the world, defied it. I didn't care to sneak back into the fold.... Our love turned bad. All the sentiment and lofty feeling somehow went out of it. We became two animals, tied together first by our passion, and afterwards by--the situation. I can't tell you all. It was killing.... It did kill the best in me."

"It was _her fault. The woman makes the kind of love always."

"No, she might have been different, another way! But I tell you the facts. She became dissatisfied, restless. She was unfaithful to me. I knew it, and I shielded her--because in part I had made her what she was. But it was awful. And at the end she went away with that other man. He will leave her. Then she'll take another.... Love turns sour, I tell you--love taken that way. Life becomes just curdled milk. And it eats you like poison. Look at me,--the marrow of a man is all gone!"

"Dear Vick, it was all _her fault. Any decent woman would have made you happy,--you would have worked, written great music,--lived a large life."

His story did not touch her except with pity for him. To her thinking each case was distinct, and her lips curved unconsciously into a smile, as if she were picturing how different it would be with _them_....

The fog had broken, and was rising from the meadows below, revealing the trees and the sun. The birds had begun to sing in the beeches. It was fresh and cool and moist before the warmth of the coming day. Isabelle drew deep breaths and loosened her scarf.

Vickers sat silent, miserable. As he had said to Alice, the wreck of his life, where he had got knowledge so dearly, availed nothing when most he would have it count for another.

"No, Vick! Whatever happens it will be our own fate, nobody's else--and I want it!"

There was cool deliberation in her tone as if the resolve had been made already.

"Not John's fate, too?"

"He's not the kind to let a thing like this upset him long. While the railroad runs and the housekeeper stays--"

"And Molly's fate?"

"Of course I have thought about Marian. There are ways. It is often done. She would be with me until she went to school, which won't be long, now."

"But just think what it would mean to her if her mother left her father."

"Oh, not so much, perhaps! I have been a good mother.... And why should I kill the twenty, thirty, maybe forty years left of my life for a child's sentiment for her mother? Very likely by the time she grows up, people will think differently about marriage."

She talked rapidly, as if eager to round all the corners.

"She may even decide to do the same thing some day."

"And you would want her to?"

"Yes! Rather than have the kind of marriage I have had."

"Isabelle!"

"You are an old sentimental dreamer, Vick. You don't understand modern life. And you don't know women--they're lots more like men, too, than you think. They write such fool things about women. There are so many silly ideas about them that they don't dare to be themselves half the time, except a few like Margaret. She is honest with herself. Of course she loves Rob Falkner. He's in Panama now, but when he gets back I have no doubt Margaret will go and live with him. And she's got three children!"

"Isabelle, you aren't Margaret Pole or Cornelia Woodyard or any other woman but yourself. There are some things _you can't do. I know you. There's the same twist in us both. You simply can't do this! You think you can, and you talk like this to me to make yourself think that you can.... But when it comes to the point, when you pack your bag, you know you will just unpack it again--and darn the stockings!"

"No, no!" Isabelle laughed in spite of herself; "I can't--I won't.... Why do I sniffle so like this? It's your fault, Vick; you always stir the pathetic note in me, you old fraud!"

She was crying now in long sobs, the tears falling to his hand.

"I know you because we are built the same foolish, idiotic way. There are many women who can play that game, who can live one way for ten or a dozen years, and then leave all that they have been--without ever looking back. But you are not one of them. I am afraid you and I are sentimentalists. It's a bad thing to be, Belle, but we can't help ourselves. We want the freedom of our feelings, but we want to keep a halo about them. You talked of cutting down these beeches. But you would never let one be touched, not one."

"I'll have 'em all cut down to-morrow," Isabelle murmured through her tears.

"Then you'll cry over them! No, Belle, it's no use going dead against your nature--the way you were made to run. You may like to soar, but you were meant to walk."

"You think there is nothing to me,--that I haven't a soul!"

"I know the soul."

Isabella flung her arms about her brother and clung there, breathing hard. The long night had worn her out with its incessant alternation of doubt and resolve, endlessly weaving through her brain.

"Better to suffer on in this cloudy world than to make others suffer," he murmured.

"Don't talk! I am so tired--so tired."....

From the hillside below came a whistled note, then the bar of a song, like a bird call. Some workman on the place going to his work, Vickers thought. It was repeated, and suddenly Isabelle took her arms from his neck,--her eyes clear and a look of determination on her lips.

"No, Vick; you don't convince me.... You did the other thing when it came to you. Perhaps we _are alike. Well, then, I shall do it! I shall dare to live!"....

And with that last defiance,-the curt expression of the floating beliefs which she had acquired,--she turned towards the house.

"Come, it is breakfast time."

She waited for him to rise and join her. For several silent moments they lingered to look at Dog Mountain across the river, as if they were looking at it for the last time, at something they had both so much loved.

"You are dear, brother," she murmured, taking his hand. "But don't lecture me. You see I am a woman now!"

And looking into her grave, tear-stained face, Vickers saw that he had lost. She had made her resolution; she would "dare to live," and that life would be with Cairy! His heart was sad. Though he had tried to free himself of his old dislike of Cairy and see him through Isabelle's eyes, it was useless. He read Tom Cairy's excitable, inflammable, lightly poised nature, with the artist glamour in him that attracted women. He would be all flame--for a time,--then dead until his flame was lighted before another shrine. And Isabelle, proud, exacting, who had always been served,--no, it was hopeless! Inevitable tragedy, to be waited for like the expected motions of nature!

And beneath this misery for Isabelle was the bitterest of human feelings,--personal defeat, personal inadequacy. 'If I had been another!' "Don't lecture me!" she had said almost coldly. The spiritual power of guidance had gone from him, because of what he had done. Inwardly he felt that it had gone. That was part of the "marrow of the man" that had been burned out. The soul of him was impotent; he was a shell, something dead, that could not kindle another to life.

'I could have saved her,' he thought. 'Once I could have saved her. She has found me lacking _now_, when she needs me most!'

The whistle sounded nearer.

"Will you do one thing for me, Isabelle?"

"All--but one thing!"

"Let me know first."

"You will know."

Cairy was coming down the terrace, cigarette in hand. His auburn hair shone in the sunlight. After his sleep, his bath, his cup of early coffee, he was bright with physical content, and he felt the beauty of the misty morning in every sense. Seeing the brother and sister coming from the beeches together, he scrutinized them quickly; like the perfect egotist, he was swiftly measuring what this particular conjunction of personalities might mean to him. Then he limped towards them, his face in smiles, and bowing in mock veneration, he lay at Isabelle's feet a rose still dewy with mist.

Vickers turned on his heel, his face twitching. But Isabelle with parted lips and gleaming eyes looked at the man, her whole soul glad, as a woman looks who is blind to all but one thought,--'I love him.'

"The breath of the morn," Cairy said, lifting the rose. "The morn of morns,--this is to be a great day, my lady! I read it in your eyes."

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PART FIVE CHAPTER LIAs Vickers crossed the village on his way back from the Johnstons', Lane emerged from the telegraph office and joined him. On the rare occasions when they were thrown together alone like this, John Lane's taciturnity reached to positive dumbness. Vickers supposed that his brother-in-law disliked him, possibly despised him. It was, however, a case of absolute non-understanding. It must remain forever a problem to the man with a firm grasp on concrete fact how any one could do what Vickers had done, except through "woman-weakness," for which Lane had no tolerance. Moreover, the quiet little man, with
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