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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part One - Chapter 5
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Together - Part One - Chapter 5 Post by :endbay Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :1000

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Together - Part One - Chapter 5

PART ONE CHAPTER V

When young John Lane first came to St. Louis to work as a clerk in the traffic department of the Atlantic and Pacific, he had called on Colonel Price at his office, a dingy little room in the corner of the second story of the old brick building which had housed the wholesale hardware business of Parrott and Price for a generation. The old merchant had received the young man with the pleasant kindliness that kept his three hundred employees always devoted to him.

"I knew your father, sir!" he said, half-closing his eyes and leaning back in his padded old office chair. "Let me see--it was in sixty-two in camp before Vicksburg. I went to consult him about a boil on my leg. It was a bad boil,--it hurt me.... Your father was a fine man--What are you doing in St. Louis?" he concluded abruptly, looking out of his shrewd blue eyes at the fresh-colored young man whose strong hands gripped squarely the arms of his chair.

And from that day Lane knew that the Colonel never lost sight of him. When his chance came, as in time it did come through one of the mutations of the great corporation, he suspected that the old hardware merchant, who was a close friend of the chief men in the road, had spoken the needed word to lift the clerk out of the rut. At any rate the Colonel had not forgotten the son of Tyringham Lane, and the young man had often been to the generous, ugly Victorian house,--built when the hardware business made its first success.

Nevertheless, when, three years later John Lane made another afternoon visit to that dingy office in the Parrott and Price establishment, his hands trembed nervously as he sat waiting while the Colonel scrawled his signature to several papers.

"Well, John!" the old man remarked finally, shoving the papers towards the waiting stenographer. "How's railroadin' these days?"

"All right," Lane answered buoyantly. "They have transferred me to the Indiana division, headquarters at Torso--superintendent of the Torso and Toledo."

"Indeed! But you'll be back here some day, eh?"

"I hope so!"

"That's good!" The Colonel smiled sympathetically, as he always did when he contemplated energetic youth, climbing the long ladder with a firm grip on each rung.

"I came to see you about another matter," Lane began hesitantly.

"Anything I can do for you?"

"Yes, sir; I want to marry your daughter,--and I'd like you to know it."

The old merchant's face became suddenly grave, the twinkle disappearing from his blue eyes. He listened thoughtfully while the young man explained himself. He was still a poor man, of course; his future was to be made. But he did not intend to remain poor. His salary was not much to offer a girl like the Colonel's daughter; but it would go far in Torso--and it was the first step. Finally he was silent, well aware that there was small possibility that he should ever be a rich man, as Colonel Price was, and that it was presumptuous of him to seek to marry his daughter, and therefore open to mean interpretation. But he felt that the Colonel was not one to impute low motives. He knew the very real democracy of the successful merchant, who never had forgotten his own story.

"What does Belle say?" the Colonel asked.

"I should not have come here if I didn't think--" the young man laughed.

"Of course!"

Then the Colonel pulled down the top of his desk, signifying that the day's business was done.

"We have never desired what is called a good match for our girl," he remarked slowly in reply to a further plea from Lane. "All we want is the best;" he laid grave emphasis on this watchword. "And the best is that Isabelle should be happy in her marriage. If she loves the man she marries, she must be that.... And I don't suppose you would be here if you weren't sure you could make her love you enough to be happy!"

The old man's smile returned for a fleeting moment, and then he mused.

"I am afraid it will be hard for her to settle down in a place like Torso--after all she's had," Lane conceded. "But I don't expect that Torso is the end of my rope. I shall give her a better chance than that, I hope."

The Colonel nodded sympathetically.

"I shouldn't consider it any hardship for my daughter to live in Torso or in any other place--if she has a good husband and loves him. That is all, my boy!"

Lane, who realized the grades of a plutocratic democracy better than three years before, and knew the position of the Prices in the city, comprehended the splendid simplicity, the single-mindedness of the man, who could thus completely ignore considerations of wealth and social position in the marriage of his only daughter.

"I shall do my best, sir, to make her happy all her life!" the young man stammered.

"I know you will, my boy, and I think you will succeed, if she loves you as you say she does."

Then the Colonel took his hat from the nail behind the door, and the two men continued their conversation in the street. They did not turn up town to the club and residence quarter, but descended towards the river, passing on their way the massive skeleton of the ten-story building that was to house, when completed, the Parrott and Price business. It rose in the smoky sunset, stretching out spidery tendons of steel to the heavens, and from its interior came a mighty clangor. The Colonel paused to look at the new building,--the monument of his success as a merchant.

"Pretty good? Corbin's doing it,--he's the best in the country, they tell me."

Soon they kept on past the new building into an old quarter of the city, the Colonel apparently having some purpose that guided his devious course through these unattractive streets.

"There!" he exclaimed at last, pointing across a dirty street to a shabby little brick house. "That's the place where Isabelle's mother and I started in St. Louis. We had a couple of rooms over there the first winter. The store was just a block further west. It's torn down now. I passed some of the best days of my life in those rooms on the second story.... It isn't the outside that counts, my boy!" The Colonel tucked his hand beneath the young man's arm, as they turned back to the newer quarters of the city.

Mrs. Price, it should be said, did not accept Lane's suit as easily as the Colonel. Her imagination had been expanded by that winter in Washington, and though she was glad that Isabelle had not accepted any of "those foreigners," yet Harmony Price had very definite ideas of the position that the Colonel's daughter might aspire to in America.... But her objections could not stand before the Colonel's flat consent and Isabelle's decision.

"They'll be a great deal better off than we were," her husband reminded her.

"That's no reason why Belle should have to start where we did, or anywhere near it!" his wife retorted. What one generation had been able to gain in the social fight, it seemed to her only natural that the next should at least hold.

The Colonel gave the couple their new home in Torso, selecting, with a fine eye for real estate values, a large "colonial" wooden house with ample grounds out beyond the smoke of the little city, near the new country club. Mrs. Price spent an exciting three months running back and forth between New York, St. Louis, and Torso furnishing the new home. Isabelle's liberal allowance was to continue indefinitely, and beyond this the Colonel promised nothing, now or later; nor would Lane have accepted more from his hand. It was to the Torso house that the Lanes went immediately after their month in the Adirondacks.

* * * * *

Torso, Indiana, is one of those towns in the Mississippi Valley which makes more impression the farther from New York one travels. New York has never heard of it, except as it appears occasionally on a hotel register among other queer places that Americans confess to as home. At Pittsburg it is a round black spot on the map, in the main ganglia of the great A. and P. and the junction point of two other railroads. At Cincinnati it is a commercial centre of considerable importance, almost a rival. While Torso to Torso is the coming pivot of the universe.

It is an old settlement--some families with French names still own the large distilleries--on the clay banks of a sluggish creek in the southern part of the state, and there are many Kentuckians in its population. Nourished by railroads, a division headquarters of the great A. and P., near the soft-coal beds, with a tin-plate factory, a carpet factory, a carriage factory, and a dozen other mills and factories, Torso is a black smudge in a flat green landscape from which many lines of electric railway radiate forth along the country roads. And along the same roads across the reaches of prairie, over the swelling hills, stalk towering poles, bearing many fine wires glistening in the sunlight and singing the importance of Torso to the world at large.

The Lanes arrived at night, and to Isabelle the prairie heavens seemed dark and far away, the long broad streets with their bushy maple trees empty, and the air filled with hoarse plaints, the rumbling speech of the railroad. She was homesick and fearful, as they mounted the steps to the new house and pushed open the shining oak door that stuck and smelled of varnish. The next morning Lane whisked off on a trolley to the A. and P. offices, while Isabelle walked around the house, which faced the main northern artery of Torso. From the western veranda she could see the roof of the new country club through a ragged group of trees. On the other side were dotted the ample houses of Torso aristocracy, similar to hers, as she knew, finished in hard wood, electric-lighted, telephoned, with many baths, large "picture" windows of plate glass, with potted ferns in them, and much the same furniture,--wholesome, comfortable "homes." Isabelle, turning back to her house to cope with the three Swedes that her mother had sent on from St. Louis, had a queer sense of anti-climax. She swept the landscape with a critical eye, feeling she knew it all, even to what the people were saying at this moment in those large American-Georgian mansions; what Torso was doing at this moment in its main street.... No, it could not be for the Lanes for long,--that was the conviction in her heart. Their destiny would be larger, fuller than any to be found in Torso. Just what she meant by a "large, full life," she had never stopped to set down; but she was sure it was not to be found here in Torso.

Here began, however, the routine of her married life. Each morning she watched her husband walk down the broad avenue to the electric car,--alert, strong, waving his newspaper to her as he turned the corner. Each afternoon she waited for him at the same place, or drove down to the office with the Kentucky horses that she had bought, to take him for a drive before dinner. He greeted her each time with the same satisfied smile, apparently not wilted by the long hours in a hot office. There was a smudged, work-a-day appearance to his face and linen, the mark of Torso, the same mark that the mill-hands across the street from the A. and P. offices brought home to their wives.... Thus the long summer days dragged. For distraction there was a mutiny in the crew of Swedish servants, but Isabelle, with her mother's instinct for domestic management, quickly produced order, in spite of the completely servantless state of Torso. She would telegraph to St. Louis for what she wanted and somehow always got it. The house ran,--that was her business. It was pretty and attractive,--that was also her business. But this woman's work she tossed off quickly. Then what? She pottered in the garden a little, but when the hot blasts of prairie heat in mid-August had shrivelled all the vines and flowers and cooked the beds into slabs of clay, she retired from the garden and sent to St. Louis for the daily flowers. She read a good deal, almost always novels, in the vague belief that she was "keeping up" with modern literature, and she played at translating some German lyrics.

Then people began to call,--the wives of the Torso great, her neighbors in those ample mansions scattered all about the prairie. These she reported to John with a mocking sense of their oddity.

"Mrs. Fraser came to-day. What is she? Tin-plate or coal?"

"He's the most important banker here," her husband explained seriously.

"Oh,--well, she asked me to join the 'travel-class.' They are going through the Holy Land. What do you suppose a 'travel-class' is?"...

Again it was the wife of the chief coal operator, Freke, "who wanted me to know that she always got her clothes from New York." She added gently, "I think she wished to find out if we are fit for Torso society. I did my best to give her the impression we were beneath it."...

These people, all the "society" of Torso, they met also at the country club, where they went Sundays for a game of golf, which Lane was learning. The wife of the A. and P. superintendent could not be ignored by Torso, and so in spite of Isabelle's efforts there was forming around her a social life. But the objective point of the day remained John,--his going and coming.

"Busy day?" she would ask when he bent to kiss her.

"They're all busy days!"

"Tell me what you did."

"Oh," he would answer vaguely, "just saw people and dictated letters and telegrams,--yes, it was a busy day." And he left her to dress for dinner.

She knew that he was weary after all the problems that he had thrust his busy mind into since the morning. She had no great curiosity to know what these problems were. She had been accustomed to the sanctity of business reserve in her father's house: men disappeared in the morning to their work and emerged to wash and dress and be as amusing as they might for the few remaining hours of the day. There were rumors of what went on in that mysterious world of business, but the right kind of men did not disclose the secrets of the office to women.

It never occurred to Lane to go over with her the minute detail of his full day: how he had considered an application from a large shipper for switching privileges, had discussed the action of the Torso and Northern in cutting the coal rates, had lunched with Freke, the president of a coal company that did business with the A. and P.; and had received, just as he left the office, the report of a serious freight wreck at one end of his division. As he had said, a busy day! And this business of life, like an endless steel chain, had caught hold of him at once and was carrying him fast in its revolution. It was his life; he liked it. With cool head and steady nerves he set himself at each problem, working it out according to known rules, calling on his trained experience. He did not look into the future, content with the preoccupation of the present, confident that the future, whatever and wherever it might be, would be crowded with affairs, activity, which he would meet competently....

"Well, what have _you been doing?" he asked as he sat down, fresh from his bath, and relaxed comfortably in anticipation of a pleasant dinner. Isabelle made a great point of dinner, having it served formally by two maids, with five "Busy day?" she would ask when he bent to kiss her.

"They're all busy days!"

"Tell me what you did."

"Oh," he would answer vaguely, "just saw people and dictated letters and telegrams,--yes, it was a busy day." And he left her to dress for dinner.

She knew that he was weary after all the problems that he had thrust his busy mind into since the morning. She had no great curiosity to know what these problems were. She had been accustomed to the sanctity of business reserve in her father's house: men disappeared in the morning to their work and emerged to wash and dress and be as amusing as they might for the few remaining hours of the day. There were rumors of what went on in that mysterious world of business, but the right kind of men did not disclose the secrets of the office to women.

It never occurred to Lane to go over with her the minute detail of his full day: how he had considered an application from a large shipper for switching privileges, had discussed the action of the Torso and Northern in cutting the coal rates, had lunched with Freke, the president of a coal company that did business with the A. and P.; and had received, just as he left the office, the report of a serious freight wreck at one end of his division. As he had said, a busy day! And this business of life, like an endless steel chain, had caught hold of him at once and was carrying him fast in its revolution. It was his life; he liked it. With cool head and steady nerves he set himself at each problem, working it out according to known rules, calling on his trained experience. He did not look into the future, content with the preoccupation of the present, confident that the future, whatever and wherever it might be, would be crowded with affairs, activity, which he would meet competently....

"Well, what have _you been doing?" he asked as he sat down, fresh from his bath, and relaxed comfortably in anticipation of a pleasant dinner. Isabelle made a great point of dinner, having it served formally by two maids, with five courses and at least one wine, "to get used to living properly," as she explained vaguely.

"Mrs. Adams called." She was the wife of the manager of the baking-powder works and president of the country club, a young married woman from a Western city with pretensions to social experience. "John," Isabelle added after mentioning this name, "do you think we shall have to stay here long?"

Her husband paused in eating his soup to look at her. "Why--why?"

"It's so second-classy," she continued; "at least the women are, mostly. There's only one I've met so far that seemed like other people one has known."

"Who is she?" Lane inquired, ignoring the large question.

"Mrs. Falkner."

"Rob Falkner's wife? He's engineer at the Pleasant Valley mines."

"She came from Denver."

"They say he's a clever engineer."

"She is girlish and charming. She told me all about every one in Torso. She's been here two years, and she seems to know everybody."

"And she thinks Torso is second-class?" Lane inquired.

"She would like to get away, I think. But they are poor, I suppose. Her clothes look as if she knew what to wear,--pretty. She says there are some interesting people here when you find them out.... Who is Mr. Darnell? A lawyer."

"Tom Darnell? He's one of the local counsel for the road,--a Kentuckian, politician, talkative sort of fellow, very popular with all sorts. What did Mrs. Falkner have to say about Tom Darnell?"

"She told me all about his marriage,--how he ran away with his wife from a boarding-school in Kentucky--and was chased by her father and brothers, and they fired at him. A regular Southern scrimmage! But they got across the river and were married."

"Sounds like Darnell," Lane remarked contemptuously.

"It sounds exciting!" his wife said.

The story, as related by the vivacious Mrs. Falkner, had stirred Isabelle's curiosity; she could not dismiss this Kentucky politician as curtly as her husband had disposed of him....

They were both wilted by the heat, and after dinner they strolled out into the garden to get more air, walking leisurely arm in arm, while Lane smoked his first, cigar. Having finished the gossip for the day, they had little to say to each other,--Isabelle wondered that it should be so little! Two months of daily companionship after the intimate weeks of their engagement had exhausted the topics for mere talk which they had in common. To-night, as Lane wished to learn the latest news from the wreck, they went into the town, crossing on their way to the office the court-house square. This was the centre of old Torso, where the distillery aristocracy still lived in high, broad-eaved houses of the same pattern as the Colonel's city mansion. In one of these, which needed painting and was generally neglected, the long front windows on the first story were open, revealing a group of people sitting around a supper-table.

"There's Mrs. Falkner," Isabelle remarked; "the one at the end of the table, in white. This must be where they live."

Lane looked at the house with a mental estimate of the rent.

"Large house," he observed.

Isabelle watched the people laughing and talking about the table, which was still covered with coffee cups and glasses. A sudden desire to be there, to hear what they were saying, seized her. A dark-haired man was leaning forward and emphasizing his remarks by tapping a wine glass with along finger. That might be Tom Darnell, she thought.... The other houses about the square were dark and gloomy, most of them closed for the summer.

"There's a good deal of money in Torso," Lane commented, glancing at a brick house with wooden pillars. "It's a growing place,--more business coming all the time."

He looked at the town with the observant eye of the railroad officer, who sees in the prosperity of any community but one word writ large,--TRAFFIC.

And that word was blown through the soft night by the puffing locomotives in the valley below, by the pall of smoke that hung night and day over this quarter of the city, the dull glow of the coke-ovens on the distant hills. To the man this was enough--this and his home; business and the woman he had won,--they were his two poles!

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PART ONE CHAPTER IVIt 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
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