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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part One - Chapter 12
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Together - Part One - Chapter 12 Post by :hlpunltd Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :1315

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Together - Part One - Chapter 12


The Steve Johnstons had had a hard time, as Isabelle would have phrased it.

He had been a faithful, somewhat dull and plodding student at the technical school, where he took the civil engineering degree, and had gone forth to lay track in Montana. He laid it well; but this job finished, there seemed no permanent place for him. He was heavy and rather tongue-tied, and made no impression on his superiors except that of commonplace efficiency. He drifted into Canada, then back to the States, and finally found a place in Detroit.

Here, while working for thirty dollars a week, he met Alice Johnston,--she also was earning her living, being unwilling to accept from the Colonel more than the means for her education,--and from the first he wished to marry her, attracted by her gentle, calm beauty, her sincerity, and buoyant, healthy enjoyment of life. She was teaching in a girls' school, and was very happy. Other women had always left the heavy man on the road, so to speak, marking him as stupid. But Alice Johnston was keener or kinder than most young women: she perceived beneath the large body a will, an intelligence, a character, merely inhibited in their envelope of large bones and solid flesh, with an entire absence of nervous system. He was silent before the world, but not foolish, and with her he was not long silent. She loved him, and she consented to marry him on forty dollars a week, hopefully planning to add something from her teaching to the budget, until Steve's slow power might gain recognition.

"So we married," she said to Isabelle, recounting her little life history in the drowsy summer afternoon. "And we were so happy on what we had! It was real love. We took a little flat a long way out of the city, and when I came home afternoons from the school, I got the dinner and Steve cooked the breakfasts,--he's a splendid cook, learned on the plains. It all went merrily the first months, though Aunt Harmony thought I was such a fool to marry, you remember?" She laughed, and Isabella smiled at the memory of the caustic comments which Mrs. Price had made when Alice Vance, a poor niece, had dared to marry a poor man,--"They'll be coming to your father for help before the year is out," she had said. But they hadn't gone to the Colonel yet.

"Then little Steve came, and I had to leave the school and stay at home. That was hard, but I had saved enough to pay for the doctor and the nurse. Then that piece of track elevation was finished and Steve was out of work for a couple of months. He tried so hard, poor boy! But he was never meant to be an engineer. I knew that, of course, all along.... Well, the baby came, and if it hadn't been for my savings,--why, I should have gone to the hospital!

"Just then Steve met a man he had known at the Tech, and was given that place on a railroad as clerk in the traffic department. He was doubtful about taking it, but I wasn't. I was sure it would open up, and even twenty-five dollars a week is something. So he left for Cleveland a week after the baby was born, and somehow I packed up and followed with the baby when I could.

"That wasn't the end of hard times by any means. You see Ned came the next year,--we're such healthy, normal specimens!" She laughed heartily at this admission of her powers of maternity. "And it wasn't eighteen months before Alice was coming.... Oh, I know that we belong to the thriftless pauper class that's always having children,--more than it can properly care for. We ought to be discouraged! But somehow we have fed and clothed 'em all, and we couldn't spare one o' the kiddies. There's James, too, you know. He came last winter, just after Steve had the grippe and pneumonia; that was a pull. But it doesn't seem right to--to keep them from coming--and when you love each other--"

Her eyes shone with a certain joy as she frankly stated the woman's problem, while Isabelle looked away, embarrassed. Mrs. Johnston continued in her simple manner:--

"If Nature doesn't want us to have them, why does she give us the power? ... I know that is wretched political economy and that Nature really has nothing to do with the modern civilized family. But as I see other women, the families about me, those that are always worrying over having children, trying to keep out of it,--why, they don't seem to be any better off. And it is--well, undignified,--not nice, you know.... We can't spare 'em, nor any more that may come! ... As I said, I believed all along that Steve had it in him, that his mind and character must tell, and though it was discouraging to have men put over him, younger men too, at last the railroad found out what he could do."

Her face beamed with pride.

"You see Steve has a remarkable power of storing things up in that big head of his. Remembers a lot of pesky little detail when he's once fixed his mind on it,--the prices of things, figures, and distances, and rates and differentials. Mr. Mason--that was the traffic manager of our road-- happened to take Steve to Buffalo with him about some rate-making business. Steve, it turned out, knew the situation better than all the traffic managers. He coached Mr. Mason, and so our road got something it wanted. It was about the lumber rate, in competition with Canadian roads. Mr. Mason made Steve his assistant--did you ever think what an awful lot the rate on lumber might mean to _you and yours? It's a funny world. Because Steve happened to be there and knew that with a rate of so much a thousand feet our road could make money,--why, we had a house to live in for the first time!

"Of course," she bubbled, "it isn't just that. It's Steve's head,--an ability to find his way through those great sheets of figures the railroads are always compiling. He stores the facts up in that big round head and pulls 'em out when they are wanted. Why, he can tell you just what it would cost to ship a car of tea from Seattle to New York!"

Isabella had a vision of Steve Johnston's large, heavy head with its thick, black hair, and she began to feel a respect for the stolid man.

"John said he had great ability," she remarked. "I'm so glad it all came out right in the end."

"I had my first servant when the promotion came, and that spring we took a little house,--it was crowded in the flat, and noisy."

"You will find it so much easier now, and you will like St. Louis."

"Oh, yes! But it hasn't been really bad,--the struggle, the being poor. You see we were both well and strong, and we loved so much, and we always had the problem of how to live,--that draws you together if you have the real thing in you. It isn't sordid trying to see what a quarter can be made to do. It's exciting."

As she recalled the fight, a tender smile illuminated her face and curved her lips upward. To her poverty had not been limiting, grinding, but an exhilarating fight that taxed her resources of mind and body.

"Of course there are a lot of things you can't have. But most people have more than they know how to handle, no matter where they are!"

Isabelle was puzzled by this remark, and explained Alice Johnston's content by her age, her lack of experience, at least such experience as she had had. For life to her presented a tantalizing feast of opportunities, and it was her intention to grasp as many of these as one possibly could. Any other view of living seemed not only foolish but small-minded. Without any snobbishness she considered that her sphere and her husband's could not be compared with the Johnstons'. The Lanes, she felt, were somehow called to large issues.

Nevertheless, Isabelle could understand that Alice's marriage was quite a different thing from what hers was,--something to glorify all the petty, sordid details, to vivify the grimy struggle of keeping one's head above the social waters.

"Now," Alice concluded, "we can save! And start the children fairly. But I wonder if we shall ever be any happier than we have been,--any closer, Steve and I?"

Alice, by her very presence, her calm acceptance of life as it shaped itself, soothed Isabelle's restlessness, suggested trust and confidence.

"You are a dear," she whispered to her cousin. "I am so glad you are to be near me in St. Louis!"

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PART ONE CHAPTER XIThe child was coming! When Isabelle realized it, she had a shock, as if something quite outside her had suddenly interposed in her affairs. That cottage at Bedmouth for the summer would have to be given up and other plans as well. At first she had refused to heed the warning,--allowed John to go away to New York on business without confiding in him,--at last accepted it regretfully. Since the terrifying fear those first days in the Adirondack forest lest she might have conceived without her passionate consent, the thought of children had gradually slipped out of her