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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Five - Chapter 53
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Together - Part Five - Chapter 53 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :795

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Together - Part Five - Chapter 53

PART FIVE CHAPTER LIII

It was still sultry at four o'clock in the afternoon, and the two men walked slowly in the direction of the river. Cairy, who had been summoned by telegram to the city, would have preferred to be driven to the junction by Isabelle, but when Vickers had suggested that he knew a short cut by a shady path along the river, he had felt obliged to accept the implied invitation. He was debating why Price had suddenly evinced this desire to be with him, for he felt sure that Vickers disliked him. But Isabelle had shown plainly that she would like him to accept her brother's offer,--she was too tired to go out again, she said, and the only horse that could be used was a burden to drive. So he set forth on the two-mile walk this oppressive afternoon, not in the best mood, determined to let Vickers do the talking.

They plodded across the meadow in silence, Cairy thinking of the interview in the city, his spirits rising as they always soared at the slightest hint of an "opening." "I'll make her take the play," he said to himself; "she isn't much good as an actress, but I must get the thing on. I'll need the money." He hoped to finish his business with this minor star, who had expressed a desire to see him, and return to Grafton by the morning express. Isabelle would be disappointed if he should not be back for luncheon.

Vickers's head was bent to the path. He had seized this chance of being alone with Cairy, and now that they were beyond the danger of interruption his blood beat uncomfortably in his head and he could not speak--for fear of uttering the wrong word.... When they reached the river, the two men paused involuntarily in the shade and looked back up the slope to the Farm, lying in the warm haze on the brow of the hill. As they stood there, the shutter of an upper chamber was drawn in, and Cairy smiled to himself.

"The house looks well from here," he remarked. "It's a pleasant spot."

"It is a dear old place!" Vickers answered, forgetting for the moment the changes that Isabelle had wrought at the Farm. "It's grown into our lives,--Isabelle's and mine. We used to come here as boy and girl in vacations.... It was a day something like this when my sister was married. I remember seeing her as she came out of the house and crossed the meadow on my father's arm. We watched her from the green in front of the chapel.... She was very beautiful--and happy!"

"I can well imagine it," Cairy replied dryly, surprised at Vickers's sudden loquacity on family matters. "But I suppose we ought to be moving on, hadn't we, to get that express? You see I am a poor walker at the best."

Vickers struck off by the river path, leading the way. Suddenly he stopped, and with flushed face said:--

"Tom, I wish you wouldn't come back to-morrow!"

"And why the devil--"

"I know it isn't _my house, it isn't _my wife, it isn't _my affair. But, Tom, my sister and I have been closer than most,--even husband and wife. I love her,--well, that's neither here nor there!"

"What are you driving at, may I ask?" Cairy demanded coldly.

"What I am going to say isn't usual--it isn't conventional. But I don't know any conventional manner of doing what I want to do. I think we have to drop all that sometimes, and speak out like plain human beings. That's the way I am going to speak to you,--as man to man.... I don't want to beat about the bush, Tom. I think it would be better if you did not come back to-morrow,--never came back to the Farm!"

He had not said it as he meant to phrase it. He was aware that he had lost ground by blurting it out like this. Cairy waited until he had lighted a cigarette before he replied, with a laugh:--

"It is a little--brusque, your idea. May I ask why I am not to come back?"

"You know well enough! ... I had hoped we could keep--other names out of this."

"We can't."

"My sister is very unhappy--"

"You think I make your sister unhappy?"

"Yes."

"I prefer to let her be the judge of that," Cairy retorted, walking ahead stiffly and exaggerating his limp.

"You know she cannot be a judge of what is best--just now."

"I think she can judge of herself better than any--outsider!"

Vickers flushed, controlled himself, and said almost humbly:--

"I know you care for her, Tom. We both do. So I thought we might discuss it amicably."

"This doesn't seem to me a discussable matter."

"But anything that concerns one I love as I do Isabelle _must be discussable in some way."

"Your sister told me about her talk with you this morning.... You did your best then, it seems. If you couldn't succeed in changing _her mind,--what do you expect from me?"

"That you will be generous! ... There are some things that Isabelle can't see straight just now. She doesn't know herself, altogether."

"I should think that her husband--"

"Can't you feel his position? His lips are closed by his pride, by his love!"

"I should say, Vickers," Cairy remarked with a sneer, "that you had better follow Lane's sensible course. This is a matter for the two most concerned and for them alone to discuss.... With your experience you must understand that ours is the situation which a mature man and a mature woman must settle for themselves. Nothing that an outsider says can count."

And turning around to face Vickers, he added slowly, "Isabelle and I will do what seems best to us, just as under similar circumstances you did what you thought was best for you without consulting anybody, as I remember."

Vickers quivered as his eye met Cairy's glance, but he accepted the sneer quietly.

"The circumstances were not the same. And I may have learned that it is a serious matter to do what you wish to do,--to take another man's wife, no matter what the circumstances are."

"Oh, that's a mere phrase. There's usually not much taking! When a woman is unhappy in her marriage, when she can be happy with another man, when no one can be really hurt--"

"Somebody always is hurt."

"The only thing I am greatly interested in is Isabelle's happiness, her life. She has been stifled all these years of marriage, intellectually, emotionally stifled. She has begun to live lately--we have both begun to live. Do you think we shall give that up? Do you think any of your little preachments can alter the life currents of two strong people who love and find their fulfilment in each other? You know men and women very little if you think so! We are living to-day at the threshold of a new social epoch,--an honester one than the world has seen yet, thank God! Men and women are daring to throw off the bonds of convention, to think for themselves, and determine what is best for them, for their highest good, undisturbed by the bogies so long held up. I will take my life, I will live, I will not be suffocated by a false respect for my neighbor's opinion."

Cairy paused in the full career of his phrases. He was gesticulating with his hands, almost forgetful of Vickers, launched as it were on a dramatic monologue. He was accustomed thus to dramatize an emotional state, as those of his temperament are wont to do, living in a world of their own feelings imaginatively projected. While Vickers listened to Cairy's torrent of words, he had but one thought: 'It's no use. He can't be reached that way--any way!'

A stone wall stopped their progress. As Cairy slowly dragged himself over the wall, Vickers saw the outline of the pistol in the revolver pocket, and remembered the afternoon when Cairy had shown them the weapon and displayed his excellent marksmanship. And now, as then, the feeling of contempt that the peaceable Anglo-Saxon has for the man who always goes armed in a peaceable land came over him.

Cairy resumed his monologue on the other side of the wall.

"It is the silliest piece of barbaric tradition for a civilized man to think that because a woman has once seen fit to give herself to him, she is his possession for all time. Because she has gone through some form, some ceremony, repeated a horrible oath that she doesn't understand, to say that she belongs to that man, is _his_, like his horse or his house,--phew! That's mere animalism. Human souls belong to themselves! Most of all the soul of a delicately sensitive woman like Isabelle! She gives, and she can take away. It's her duty to take herself back when she realizes that it no longer means anything to her, that her life is degraded by--"

"Rot!" Vickers exclaimed impatiently. He had scarcely heard what Cairy had been saying. His sickening sense of failure, of impotency, when he wished most for strength, had been succeeded by rage against the man, not because of his fluent argument, but because of himself; not against his theory of license, but against him. He saw Isabelle's life broken on the point of this glib egotism. "We needn't discuss your theories. The one fact is that my sister's life shall not be ruined by you!"

Cairy, dropping back at once to his tone of worldly convention, replied calmly:--

"That I think we shall have to let the lady decide for herself,--whether I shall ruin her life or not. And I beg to point out that this topic is of your own choosing. I regard it as an impertinence. Let us drop it. And if you will point out the direction, I think I will hurry on by myself and get my train."

"My God, no! We won't drop it--not yet. Not until you have heard a little more what I have in mind.... I think I know you, Cairy, better than my sister knows you. Would you make love to a _poor woman, who had a lot of children, and take _her_? Would you take her and her children, like a man, and work for them? ... In this case you will be given what you want--"

"I did not look for vulgarity from you! But with the _bourgeoisie_, I suppose, it all comes down to dollars and cents. I have not considered Mrs. Lane's circumstances."

"It's not mere dollars and cents! Though that is a test,--what a man will do for a woman, not what a woman will do for a man she loves and--pities."

As Cairy shot an ugly glance at him, Vickers saw that he was fast angering the man past all hope of influence. But he was careless now, having utterly failed to avert evil from the one he loved most in the world, and he poured out recklessly his bitter feeling:--

"The only success you have to offer a woman is success with other women! That little nurse in the hospital, you remember? The one who took care of you--"

"If you merely wish to insult me--" the Southerner stammered.

They were in the midst of a thicket of alders near the river, and the sinking sun, falling through the young green leaves, mottled the path with light and shade. The river, flushed with spring water, gurgled pleasantly over pebbly shallows. It was very still and drowsy; the birds had not begun their evening song.

The two men faced each other, their hands clenched in their coat pockets, and each read the hate in the other's face.

"Insult you!" Vickers muttered. "Cairy, you are scum to me--scum!"

Through the darkness of his rage a purpose was struggling--a blind purpose--that urged him on.

... "I don't know how many other women after the nurse have served to fatten your ego. But you will never feed on my sister's blood while I live!"

He stepped closer unconsciously, and as he advanced Cairy retreated, taking his clenched hand from his pocket.

"Why don't you strike?" Vickers cried.

Suddenly he knew that purpose; it had emerged with still clearness in his hot brain. His heart whispered, 'She will never do it over my body!' And the thought calmed him at once. He saw Cairy's trembling arm and angry face. 'He'll shoot,' he said to himself coldly. 'It's in his blood, and he's a coward. He'll shoot!' Standing very still, his hands in his pockets, he looked quietly at the enraged man. He was master now!

"Why don't you strike?" he repeated.

And as the Southerner still hesitated, he added slowly:--

"Do you want to hear more?"

The memory of old gossip came back to him. 'He is not the real Virginia Cairy,' some one had said once; 'he has the taint,--that mountain branch of the family,--the mother, you know, they say!' Very slowly Vickers spoke:--

"No decent man would want his sister living with a fellow whose mother--"

As the words fell he could see it coming,--the sudden snatch backwards of the arm, the little pistol not even raised elbow high. And in the drowsy June day, with the flash of the shot, the thought leapt upwards in his clear mind, 'At last I am not impotent--I have saved her!'....

And when he sank back into the meadow grass without a groan, seeing Cairy's face mistily through the smoke, and behind him the blur of the sky, he thought happily, 'She will never go to him, now--never!'--and then his eyes closed.

* * * * *

It was after sunset when some men fishing along the river heard a groan and hunting through the alders and swamp grass found Vickers, lying face down in the thicket. One of the men knew who he was, and as they lifted him from the pool of blood where he lay and felt the stiff fold of his coat, one said:--

"He must have been here some time. He's lost an awful lot of blood! The wound is low down."

They looked about for the weapon in the dusk, and not finding it, took the unconscious man into their boat and started up stream.

"Suicide?" one queried.

"Looks that way,--I'll go back after the pistol, later."

* * * * *

Isabelle had had tea with Marian and the governess out in the garden, and afterwards strolled about through the beds, plucking a flower here and there. To the agitation of the morning the calm of settled resolve had succeeded. She looked at the house and the gardens thoughtfully, as one looks who is about to depart on a long journey. In her heart was the stillness after the storm, not joy,--that would come later when the step was taken; when all was irrevocably settled. She thought quite methodically of how it would all be,--what must be done to cut the cords of the old life, to establish the new. John would see the necessity,--he would not make difficulties. He might even be glad to have it all over! Of course her mother would wail, but she would learn to accept. She would leave Molly at first, and John naturally must have his share in her always. That could be worked out later. As for the Farm, they might come back to it afterwards. John had better stay on here for the present,--it was good for Molly. They would probably live in the South, if they decided to live in America. She would prefer London, however.... She was surprised at the sure way in which she could think it all out. That must be because it was right and there was no wavering in her purpose.... Poor Vick! he would care most. But he would come to realize how much better it was thus, how much more right really than to go dragging through a loveless, empty life. And when he saw her happy with Tom--but she wished he liked Tom better.

The failure of Vickers to return in time for tea had not troubled her. He had a desultory, irregular habit of life. He might have stopped at Alice's or even decided to go on to the city with Tom, or merely wandered off across the country by himself....

In the last twilight three men came up the meadow path, carrying something among them, walking slowly. Isabelle caught sight of them as they reached the lower terrace and with her eyes fastened on them, trying to make out the burden they were carrying so carefully, stood waiting before the house.

"What is it?" she asked at last as the men drew nearer, seeing in the gloom only the figures staggering slightly as they mounted the steps.

"Your brother's been hurt, Mrs. Lane," a voice said.

"Hurt!" That nameless fear of supernatural interference, the quiver of the human nerve at the possible message from the infinite, stopped the beating of her heart.

"Yes'm--shot!" the voice said. "Where shall we take him?"

They carried Vickers upstairs and placed him in Isabelle's bed, as she directed. Bending over him, she tried to unbutton the stiff coat with her trembling fingers, and suddenly she felt something warm--his blood. It was red on her hand. She shuddered before an unknown horror, and with mysterious speed the knowledge came to her heart that Fate had overtaken her--here!

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PART FIVE CHAPTER LIVThe doctors had come, probed for the bullet, and gone. They had not found the bullet. The wound was crooked, they said, entering the fleshy part of the abdomen, ranging upwards in the direction of the heart, then to the back. The wounded man was still unconscious. There was a chance, so the New York surgeon told Isabelle,--only they had not been able to locate the bullet, and the heart was beating feebly. There had been a great loss of blood. If he had been found earlier, perhaps--they did not know.... Outside on the drive the doctors exchanged
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PART FIVE CHAPTER LIIDid 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
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