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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part One - Chapter 4
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Together - Part One - Chapter 4 Post by :endbay Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :3225

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Together - Part One - Chapter 4

PART ONE CHAPTER IV

It was a hot, close night. After the Bellefleur had been coupled to the Western express at the junction, Lane had the porters make up a bed for Isabelle on the floor of the little parlor next the observation platform, and here at the rear of the long train, with the door open, she lay sleepless through the night hours, listening to the rattle of the trucks, the thud of heavy wheels on the rails, disturbed only when the car was shifted to the Adirondack train by the blue glare of arc lights and phantom figures rushing to and fro in the pallid night.

The excitement of the day had utterly exhausted her; but her mind was extraordinarily alive with impressions,--faces and pictures from this great day of her existence, her marriage. And out of all these crowding images emerged persistently certain ones,--Aline, with the bloom almost gone, the worn air of something carelessly used. That was due to the children, to cares,--the Gorings were poor and the two years abroad must have been a strain. All the girls at St. Mary's had thought that marriage ideal, made all of love. For there was something of the poet in Eugene Goring, the slim scholar, walking with raised head and speaking with melodious voice. He was a girl's ideal.... And then came Nan Lawton, with her jesting tone, and sly, half-shut eyes. Isabelle remembered how brilliant Nan's marriage was, how proud she herself had been to have a part in it. Nan's face was blotted by Alice Johnston's with her phlegmatic husband. She was happy, serene, but old and acquainted with care.

Why should she think of them, of any other marriage? Hers was to be different,--oh, yes, quite exceptional and perfect, with an intimacy, a mutual helpfulness.... The girls at St. Mary's had all had their emotional experiences, which they confessed to one another; and she had had hers, of course, like her affair with Fosdick; but so innocent, so merely kittenish that they had almost disappeared from memory. These girls at St. Mary's read poetry, and had dreams of heroes, in the form of football players. They all thought about marriage, coming as they did from well-to-do parents, whose daughters might be expected to marry. Marriage, men, position in the world,--all that was their proper inheritance.

After St. Mary's there had been two winters in St. Louis,--her first real dinners and parties, her first real men. Then a brief season in Washington as Senator Thomas's guest, where the horizon, especially the man part of it, had considerably widened. She had made a fair success in Washington, thanks to her fresh beauty and spirit, and also, she was frank to confess, thanks to the Senator's interest and the reputation of her father's wealth. Then had come a six months with her mother and Vickers in Europe, from which she returned abruptly to get engaged, to begin life seriously.

These experimental years had seemed to her full of radiant avenues, any one of which she was free to enter, and for a while she had gone joyously on, discovering new avenues, pleasing herself with trying them all imaginatively. At the head of all these avenues had stood a man, of course. She could recall them all: the one in St. Louis who had followed her to Washington, up the Nile, would not be turned away. Once he had touched her, taken her hand, and she had felt cold,--she knew that his was not her way. In Washington there had been a brilliant congressman whom the Senator approved of,--an older man. She had given him some weeks of puzzled deliberation, then rejected him, as she considered sagely, because he spoke only to her mind. Perhaps the most dangerous had been the Austrian whom she had met in Rome. She almost yielded there; but once when they were alone together she had caught sight of depths in him, behind his black eyes and smiling lips, that made her afraid,--deep differences of race. The Prices were American in an old-fashioned, clean, plain sense. So when he persisted, she made her mother engage passage for home and fled with the feeling that she must put an ocean between herself and this man, fled to the arms of the man she was to marry, who somehow in the midst of his busy life managed to meet her in New York.

But why him? Out of all these avenues, her possibilities of various fate, why had she chosen him, the least promising outwardly? Was it done in a mood of reaction against the other men who had sought her? He was most unlike them all, with a background of hard struggle, with limitations instead of privileges such as they had. The Colonel's daughter could understand John Lane's persistent force,--patient, quiet, sure. She remembered his shy, inexperienced face when her father first brought him to the house for dinner. She had thought little of him then,--the Colonel was always bringing home some rough diamond,--but he had silently absorbed her as he did everything in his path, and selected her, so to speak, as he selected whatever he wanted. And after that whenever she came back to her father's home from her little expeditions into the world, he was always there, and she came to know that he wanted her,--was waiting until his moment should come. It came.

Never since then had she had a regret for those possibilities that had been hers,--for those other men standing at the other avenues and inviting her. From the moment that his arms had held her, she knew that he was the best,--so much stronger, finer, simpler than any other. She was proud that she had been able to divine this quality and could prefer real things to sham. During the engagement months she had learned, bit by bit, the story of his struggle, what had been denied to him of comfort and advantage, what he had done for himself and for his mother. She yearned to give him what he had never had,--pleasure, joy, the soft suavities of life, what she had had always.

Now she was his! Her wandering thoughts came back to that central fact.

Half frightened, she drew the blanket about her shoulders and listened. He had been so considerate of her,--had left her here to rest after making sure of her comfort and gone forward to the stuffy stateroom to sleep, divining that she was not yet ready to accept him; that if he took her now, he should violate something precious in her,--that she was not fully won. She realized this delicate instinct and was grateful to him. Of course she was his,--only his; all the other avenues had been closed forever by her love for him, her marriage to him. Ah, that should be wonderful for them both, all the years that were to come! Nevertheless, here on the threshold, her wayward soul had paused the merest moment to consider those other avenues, what they might have offered of experience, of knowledge, had she taken any other one of them. Were she here with another than him, destiny, her inmost self, the whole world of being would be changed, would be other than it was to be! What was that mysterious power that settled fate on its grooves? What were those other lives within her soul never to be lived, the lives she might have lived? Bewildered, weary, she stretched out her arms dreamily to life, and with parted lips sank into slumber....

The sun was streaming through the open door; the train had come to a halt. Isabelle awoke with a start, afraid. Her husband was bending over her and she stared up directly into his amused eyes, looked steadily at him, remembering now all that she had thought the night before. This was her avenue--this was _he ... yet she closed her eyes as he bent still nearer to kiss her neck, her temples, her lips. Like a frightened child she drew the clothes close about her, and turned from his eager embraces. Beyond his face she saw a line of straight, stiff firs beside the track, and the blue foot-hills through which the train was winding its way upwards to the mountains. She stretched herself sleepily, murmuring:--

"Dear, I'm so tired! Is it late?"

"Ten o'clock. We're due in half an hour. I had to wake you."

"In half an hour!" She fled to the dressing-room, putting him off with a fleeting kiss.

One of the Senator's guides met them at the station with a buckboard. All the way driving upwards through the woods to the camp they were very gay. It was like one of those excursions she used to take with Vickers when he was in his best, most expansive mood, alternately chaffing and petting her. Lane was in high spirits, throwing off completely that sober self which made him so weighty in his world, revealing an unexpected boyishness. He joked with the guide, talked fishing and shooting. With the deep breaths of mountain air he expanded, his eyes flashing a new fire of joy at sight of the woods and streams. Once when they stopped to water the horses he seized the drinking-cup and dashed up the slope to a spring hidden among the trees. He brought back a brimming cupful of cold water, which she emptied. Then with a boyish, chivalrous smile he put his lips to the spot where she had drunk and drained the last drop. "That's enough for me!" he said, and they laughed self-consciously. His homage seemed to say that thus through life he would be content with what she left him to drink,--absurd fancy, but at this moment altogether delightful.... Later she rested, pillowing her head on his shoulder, covered by his coat, while the trap jolted on through the woods between high hills. Now and then he touched her face with the tips of his strong fingers, brushing away the wandering threads of hair. Very peaceful, happy, feeling that it was all as she would have wished it, she shut her eyes, content to rest on this comrade, so strong and so gentle. Life would be like this, always.

The Senator's camp was a camp only in name, of course; in fact it was an elaborate and expensive rustic establishment on a steep bluff above a little mountain lake. The Japanese cook had prepared a rich dinner, and the champagne was properly iced. The couple tiptoed about the place, looking at each other in some dismay, and John readily fell in with her suggestion that they should try sleeping in the open, with a rough shelter of boughs,--should make their first nest for themselves. The guide took them to a spot some distance up the lake and helped them cut the fir boughs, all but those for the bed, which they insisted upon gathering for themselves. After bringing up the blankets and the bags he paddled back to the camp, leaving them to themselves in the solitude of the woods, under the black, star-strewn sky.

Alone with him thus beside their little fire her heart was full of dream and content, of peace and love. They two seemed to have come up out of the world to some higher level of life. After the joyous day this solitude of the deep forest was perfect. When the fire had died down to the embers, he circled her with his arms and kissed her. Although her body yielded to his strong embrace her lips were cold, hard, and her eyes answered his passion with a strange, aloof look, as if her soul waited in fear.... She knew what marriage was to be, although she had never listened to the allusions whispered among married women and more experienced girls. Something in the sex side of the relations between men and women had always made her shrink. She was not so much pure in body and soul, as without sex, unborn. She knew the fact of nature, the eternal law of life repeating itself through desire and passion; but she realized it remotely, only in her mind, as some necessary physiological mechanism of living, like perspiration, fatigue, hunger. But it had not spoken in her body, in her soul; she did not feel that it ever could speak to her as it was speaking in the man's lighted eyes, in his lips. So now as always she was cold, tranquil beneath her lover's kisses.

And later on their bed of boughs, with her husband's arms about her, his heart throbbing against her breast, his warm breath covering her neck, she lay still, very still,--aloof, fearful of this mystery to be revealed, a little weary, wishing that she were back once more in the car or in her own room at the Farm, for this night, to return on the morrow to her comrade for another joyous, free day.

"My love! ... Come to me! ... I love you, love you!" ...

The passionate tone beat against her ears, yet roused no thrilling response. The trembling voice, the intensity of the worn old words coming from him,--it was all like another man suddenly appearing in the guise of one she thought she knew so well! The taut muscles of his powerful arm pressing against her troubled her. She would have fled,--why could one be like this! Still she caressed his face and hair, kissing him gently. Oh, yes, she loved him,--she was his! He was her husband.' Nevertheless she could not meet him wholly in this inmost intimacy, and her heart was troubled. If he could be content to be her companion, her lover! But this other thing was the male, the something which made all men differ from all women in the crisis of emotion--so she supposed--and must be endured. She lay passive in his arms, less yielding than merely acquiescent, drawn in upon herself to something smaller than she was before....

When he slept at her side, his head pillowed close to hers on the fragrant fir, she still lay awake, her eyes staring up at the golden stars, still fearful, uncomprehending. At last she was his, as he would have her,--wholly his, so she said, seeking comfort,--and thus kissing his brow, with a long, wondering sigh she fell asleep by his side.

In the morning they dipped into the cold black lake, and as they paddled back to the camp for breakfast while the first rays of the warm sun shone through the firs in gold bars, she felt like herself once more,--a companion ready for a frolic. The next morning Lane insisted on cooking their breakfast, for he was a competent woodsman. She admired the deft way in which he built his little fire and toasted the bacon. In the undress of the woods he showed at his best,--self-reliant, capable. There followed a month of lovely days which they spent together from sunrise to starlight, walking, fishing, canoeing, swimming,--days of fine companionship when they learned the human quality in each other. He was strong, buoyant, perfectly sure of himself. No emergency could arise where he would be found wanting in the man's part. The man in him she admired,--it was what first had attracted her,--was proud of it, just as he was proud of her lithe figure, her beauty, her gayety, and her little air of worldliness. She began to assume that this was all of marriage, at least the essential part of it, and that the other, the passionate desire, was something desired by the man and to be avoided by the woman.

They liked their guide, one of those American gypsies, half poacher, half farmer. He kept a wife and family in a shack at the foot of the lake, and Isabelle, with a woman's need for the natural order of life, sought out and made friends with the wild little brood. The woman had been a mill-hand, discovered by the woodsman on a chance visit to the town where she worked, and made his wife, his woman. Not yet thirty, she had had eight children, and another was coming. Freckled, with a few wisps of thin blond hair, her front teeth imperfect, she was an untidy, bedraggled object, used and prematurely aged. Nevertheless the guide seemed attached to her, and when on a Sunday the family went down to the settlement, following the trail through the camp, Isabelle could see him help the woman at the wire fence, carrying on one arm the youngest child, trailing his gun in the other hand.

"He must care for her!" Isabelle remarked.

"Why, of course. Why not?" her husband asked.

"But think--" It was all she could say, not knowing how to put into words the mournful feeling this woman with her brood of young gave her. What joy, what life for herself could such a creature have? Isabelle, her imagination full of comfortable houses with little dinner parties, pretty furniture, books, theatres, charity committees,--all that she conceived made up a properly married young woman's life,--could not understand the existence of the guide's wife. She was merely the man's woman, a creature to give him children, to cook the food, to keep the fire going. He had the woods, the wild things he hunted; he had, too, his time of drink and rioting; but she was merely his drudge and the instrument of his animal passion. Well, civilization had put a few milestones between herself and Molly Sewall! In the years to come her mind would revert often to this family as she saw it filing down the path to the settlement, the half-clothed children peeping shyly at her, the woman trailing an old shawl from her bent shoulders, the man striding on ahead with his gun and his youngest baby, careless so long as there was a fire, a bit of food, and the forest to roam in....

So passed these days of their honeymoon, each one perfect, except for the occasional disquieting presence of passion, of unappeasable desire in the man. This male fire was as mysterious, as inexplicable to her as that first night,--something to be endured forgivingly, but feared, almost hated for its fierce invasion of her. If her husband could only take her as companion,--the deep, deep friend, the first and best for the long journey of life! Perhaps some day that would content him; perhaps this flower of passion came only at first, to be subdued by the work of life. She never dreamed that some day she herself might change, might be waked by passion. And yet she knew that she loved her husband, yearned to give him all that he desired. Taking his face between her hands, she would kiss it gently, tenderly, as a mother might kiss a hot, impulsive child trying to still a restless spirit within.

This mystery of passion! It swept over the man, transfiguring him as the summer storm swept across the little lake, blackening the sky with shadows through which the lightning played fearsomely. She saw this face hot with desire of her, as the face of a stranger,--another one than the strong, self-contained man she had married,--a face with strange animal and spiritual depths in it, all mixed and vivified. It was the brute, she said to herself, and feared. Brute and God lie close together; but she could not see the God,--felt only the fury of the brute.

Like the storm it passed off, leaving him as she loved him, her tender and worshipping husband. It never entered her thought that she might love any man more than she loved him, that perhaps some day she would long for a passion to meet her own heart. She saw now no lack in her cold limbs, her hard lips, her passionless eyes. She was still Diana,--long, shapely, muscular. In her heart she loved this Diana self, so aloof from desire!

The last night of their stay in the mountains she revolved all these things in her mind as they lay side by side on their fir couch, he asleep in a deep, dreamless fatigue, she alert and tense after the long day in the spirituous air, the night wind sighing to her from the upper branches of the firs. To-morrow they would start for the West, to begin the prose of life. Suddenly a thought flashed over her that stopped the beat of her pulse,--she might already have conceived! She did not wish to escape having children, at least one or two; she knew that it was to be expected, that it was necessary and good. He would want his child and she also, and her father and mother would be made happy by children. But her heart said,--not yet, already. Something in which her part had been so slight! She felt the injustice of Nature that let conception come to a woman indifferently, merely of desire in man and acquiescence in woman. How could that be! How could woman conceive so blindly? The child should be got with joy, should flower from a sublime moment of perfect union when the man and the woman were lifted out of themselves to some divine pinnacle of experience, of soul and body union and self-effacement. Then conception would be but the carrying over of their deep yearning, each for the other, the hunger of souls and bodies to create.

Now she saw that it could be otherwise, as perhaps with her this very moment: that Nature took the seed, however it might fall, and nourished it wherever it fell, and made of it, regardless of human will, the New Life,--heedless of the emotion of the two that were concerned in the process. For the first time she saw that pitiless, indifferent face of Nature, intent only on the Result, the thing created, scorning the spiritual travail of the creator, ignoring any great revelation of the man and the woman that would seem to count for so much in this process of life-making. Thus a drunken beast might beget his child in the body of a loathing woman, blind souls sowing life blindly for a blind future.

The idea clutched her like fear: she would defy this fate that would use her like any other piece of matrix, merely to bear the seed and nourish it for a certain period of its way, one small step in the long process. Her heart demanded more than a passive part in the order of Nature. Her soul needed its share from the first moment of conception in making that which she was to give to the race. Some day a doctor would explain to her that she was but the soil on which the fertile germ grew like a vegetable, without her will, her consent, her creating soul! But she would reject that coarse interpretation,--the very blasphemy of love.

And here, at this point, as she lay in the dark beneath the sighing firs, it dawned in her dimly that something was wanting in her marriage, in the union with the man she had chosen. She had taken him of her own free choice; she was willingly his; she would bear his children if they came. Her body and her soul were committed to him by choice, and by that ceremony of marriage before the people in the chapel,--to take her part with him in the endless process of Fate, the continuance of life.

Nevertheless, lying there in full contemplation of this new life that might already be putting its clutch upon her life, to suck from her its own being, she rebelled at it all. Her heart cried for her part, her very own, for that mysterious exaltation that should make her really one with the father in the act of creation, in the fulfilment of Love. And somehow she knew assuredly that this could not be, not with this man by her side, not with her husband....

She turned to him, pillowed there at her side, one hand resting fondly on her arm. Her eyes stared at him through the darkness, trying to read the familiar features. Did he, too, know this? Did he feel that it was impossible ever to be really one with her? Did he suspect the terrible defeat she was suffering now? A tear dropped from her eye and fell on the upturned face of the sleeper. He moved, murmured, "dearest," and settled back into his deep sleep; taking his hand from her arm. With a little cry she fell on him and kissed him, asking his forgiveness for the mistake between them. She put her head close to his, her lips to his lips; for she was his and yet not his,--a strange division separating them, a cleavage between their bodies and their souls.

"Why did we not know?" something whispered within. But she answered herself more calmly,--"It will all come right in the end--it must come right--for his sake!"

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