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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Seven - Chapter 72
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Together - Part Seven - Chapter 72 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :3267

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Together - Part Seven - Chapter 72

PART SEVEN CHAPTER LXXII

They dined in the lofty, sombre room at the rear of the house, overlooking a patch of turf between the house and the stable. Above the massive sideboard hung an oil portrait of the Colonel, a youthful painting but vigorous, where something of the old man's sweetness and gentle wisdom had been caught. This dining room had been done over the year before Isabelle was married; its taste seemed already heavy and bad.

Her mother's old servants served the same rich, substantial meal they had served when she was a child, with some poor sherry, the Colonel's only concession to domestic conviviality. The room and the food subtly typified the spirit of the race,--that spirit which was illuminated in the court-room--before it had finally evolved.... The moral physiology of men is yet to be explored!

Lane leaned back in the Colonel's high-backed chair, gray and weary under the brilliant light. At first he tried to be interested in Grosvenor, asked questions of his wife, but soon he relapsed into a preoccupied silence. This mood Isabelle had never seen in her husband, nor his physical lassitude. After a time she ventured to ask:--

"Is it likely to last much longer, the trial?"

"A couple of days, the lawyers think." And after a while he added morosely: "Nobody can tell how long if it is appealed.... I have had to muddle away the better part of the winter over this business, first and last! It's nothing but popular clamor, suspicion. The government is playing to the gallery. I don't know what the devil will happen to the country with this lunatic of a President. Capital is already freezing up tight. The road will have to issue short-time notes to finance the improvements it has under way, and abandon all new work. Men who have money to invest aren't going to buy stock and bonds with a set of anarchists at Washington running the country!"

It was quite unlike Lane to explode in this manner. It was not merely the result of nervous fatigue, Isabelle felt: it indicated some concealed sore in her husband's mind.

"How do you think it will be decided?" she asked timidly.

"The trial? Nobody can guess. The judge is apparently against us, and that will influence the jurors,--a lot of farmers and sore-heads! ... But the verdict will make no difference. We shall carry it up, fight it out till the last court. The government has given us enough errors,--all the opening we need!"

The government had played badly, that is. Isabelle had it on her tongue to demand: "But how do _you feel about it,--the real matter at issue? What is right--_just_?" Again she refrained, afraid to array herself apparently on the side of his enemies.

"It is all this infernal agitation, which does nobody any good and will result in crippling business," he repeated, as they went to the library for their coffee.

This room, where the Colonel usually sat evenings with his wife and the neighbors who dropped in, was exactly as it had been in the old days,--even the same row of novels and books of travel in a rack on the polished table. Only the magazines had been changed.

Lane lighted a cigar and sipped his coffee. Revived by his dinner and cigar, he began to talk more freely, in the same mood of disgusted irritation, the mood of his class these days, of the men he met at his club, in business,--the lawyers, the capitalists, the leaders of society. Isabelle, listening to his bitter criticism, wished that she might get him to speak more personally,--tell her all the detail that had led up to the suit, explain his connection with it,--show her his inmost heart as he would show it to himself in a time of exact truth! With this feeling she went over to where he was sitting and put her hand on his shoulder, and as he glanced up in surprise at this unexpected demonstration, she said impulsively:--

"John, please, John! ... Tell me everything--I can understand.... Don't you think there might be some little truth in the other side? Was the road fair, was it just in this coal business? I so want to know, John!"

Her voice trembled with suppressed emotion. She wished to draw him to her, in the warmth of her new feeling to melt his stern antagonism, his harsh mood. But as he looked inquiringly at her--weighing as it were the meaning of this sudden interest in his affairs--the wife realized how far apart she was from her husband. The physical separation of all these years, the emotional separation, the intellectual separation had resulted in placing them in two distinct spheres spiritually. The intervening space could not be bridged in a moment of expansive emotion. It would be a slow matter, if it ever could be accomplished, to break the crust that had formed like ice between their souls. Isabelle went back to her seat and drank her coffee.

"I don't know what you mean by fair and just," he replied coldly. "Business has to be done according to its own rules, not as idealists or reformers would have it done. The railroad has done nothing worse than every big business is compelled to do to live,--has made a profit where there was one to make.... This would be a poor sort of country, even for the reformers and agitators, if the men who have the power to make money should be bound hand and foot by visionaries and talkers. You can't get the sort of men capable of doing things on a large scale to go into business for clerk's wages. They must see a profit--and a big one,--and the men who aren't worth anything will always envy them. That's the root of the whole matter."

It would be useless, Isabelle saw, to point out that his defence was general, and an evasion of the point she wished to see clearly,--what the real _fact with him was. His mind was stiffened by the prejudices of his profession, tempered in fierce fires of industrial competition as a result of twenty years of triumphant struggle with men in the life and death grapple of business. He was strong just because he was narrow and blind. If he had been able to doubt, even a little, the basis of his actions, he would never have become the third vice-president of the Atlantic and Pacific, one of the most promising of the younger men in his profession.

Recognizing her defeat, Isabelle asked about the Johnstons.

"I have seen Steve a couple of times," Lane replied. "I meant to write you, but hadn't the time. Steve didn't make good in that lumber business. Those men he went in with, it looks to me, were sharks. They took all his money away,--every cent. You know they mortgaged the house, too. Then the company failed; he was thrown out. Steve was not sharp enough for them, I guess."

"Isn't that too bad!"

"Just what might have been expected," Lane commented, associating Steve Johnston's failure with his previous train of thought; "I told him so when he gave up railroading. He was not an all-round man. He had one talent--a good one--and he knew the business he was trained in. But it wasn't good enough for him. He must get out and try it alone--"

"It wasn't to make more money," Isabelle protested, remembering the day at the Farm when the two men had walked back and forth, delaying luncheon, while they heatedly discussed Steve's determination to change his business.

"He had this reform virus in his system, too! ... Well, he is bookkeeper, now, for some little down-town concern at eighteen hundred a year. All he can get these days. The railroads are discharging men all the time. He might be earning six thousand in the position I offered him then. Do you think Alice and the boys will be any better off for his scruples? Or the country?"

"Poor Alice! ... Are they still living in the house at Bryn Mawr?"

"Yes, I believe so. But Steve told me he couldn't carry the mortgage after the first of the year,--would have to give up the house."

"I must go out there to-morrow," she said quickly; and after a time she added, "Don't you think we could do something for them, John?"

Lane smiled, as if the suggestion had its touch of irony.

"Why, yes! I mean to look into his affairs when I can find the time.... I'll see what I can do."

"Oh, that is good !" Isabelle exclaimed warmly. It was like her husband, prompt generosity to a friend in trouble. And this matter brought husband and wife closer in feeling than they had been since her arrival.

"Ready money is a pretty scarce commodity," Lane remarked; "but I will see what can be done about his mortgage."

It was not easy, he wished his wife to know, even for the strong to be generous these days, thanks to the reformers, and the "crazy man in Washington," with whom he suspected she sympathized.

They sat in silence after this until he had finished his cigar. There were many subjects that must be discussed between them, which thrust up their heads like sunken rocks in a channel; but both felt their danger. At last Isabelle, faint from the excitement of the day, with all its mutations of thought and feeling, went to her room. She did not sleep for hours, not until long after she heard her husband's step go by the door, and the click of the switches as he turned out the electric lights.

There was much to be done before their marriage could be recreated on a living principle. But where the man was strong and generous, and the woman was at last awakened to life, there was no reason to despair.

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PART SEVEN CHAPTER LXXIThe government attorney had already begun his argument when Isabelle, escorted by Teddy Bliss, returned to the court-room. The district attorney was a short, thick-set, sallow-faced man, with bushy gray hair growing in the absurd "Pompadour" fashion, and a homely drooping mustache. Another "bounder," thought Isabelle, one of the hungry outsiders, not in fee to the corporations, who hired only the best lawyers. Perhaps he was aware of his position there in the dingy court-room before the trained gladiators of his profession--and also before his country! The lawyers for the defendants lolling in their chairs settled themselves placidly
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