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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Seven - Chapter 73
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Together - Part Seven - Chapter 73 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :2518

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Together - Part Seven - Chapter 73

PART SEVEN CHAPTER LXXIII

Isabelle did not go back to the court-room to listen to the remaining arguments, not even to hear Mr. Brinkerhoff's learned and ingenious plea in behalf of the rights of capital, the sacred privileges of property. She felt that John would rather not have her there. But Isabelle read every word of the newspaper report of the trial, which since the district attorney's impassioned and powerful plea had excited even greater public interest than before. Not only locally, but throughout the country, the trial of the People vs. the Atlantic and Pacific et al. was recognized as the first serious effort of the reform administration to enforce the laws against capital, by convicting not merely the irresponsible agents but also some of the men "higher up." It was John Lane's position in the railroad that gave these "coal cases" their significance.

Isabelle read the report of the trial with thoughtful care, but much of it was too technical for her untrained mind to grasp. All these arguments about admitting certain ledgers in evidence, all these exceptions to the rulings of the court, the dodges, fences, pitfalls, the dust created by the skilled counsel for the defence, confused her. What she gathered in a general way was that the road was fighting its case on technicalities, seeking to throw the suit out of court, without letting the one real matter at issue appear,--had they dealt illegally and unjustly with the public? To her emotional temperament this eminently modern method of tactics was irritating and prejudiced her against her husband's side. "But I don't understand," she reflected sadly, "so John would say. And they don't seem to want people to understand!"

With these thoughts on her mind, she took the cars to the little suburb north of the city, where the Johnstons lived. Bryn Mawr was one of the newer landscape-gardened of our city suburbs, with curving roads, grass-plots, an art _nouveau railroad station, shrubs and poplar sticks set out along the cement sidewalks, in an effort to disguise the rawness of the prairie pancake that the contractors had parcelled into lots. Isabelle found some difficulty in tracing her way along the ingeniously twisted avenues to the Johnston house. But finally she reached the two-story-and-attic wooden box, which was set in a little grove of maple trees. Two other houses were going up across the street, and a trench for a new sewer had been opened obstructively. At this period of belated spring Bryn Mawr was not a charming spot. Unfinished edges left by the landscape gardener and the contractor showed pitilessly against the leafless, scrubby trees and the rolling muddy fields beyond. It was all covered with a chill mist. In the days when she lived in St. Louis she had never found time to go so far to see Alice, and she had shared Bessie's horror of the remote and cheerless existence in this suburb, had wondered how an intelligent and well-bred woman like Alice Johnston could endure its dull level of platitudinous existence. But now as she picked her way across the sewer excavation, she felt that the little wooden box ahead of her was home for this family,--they must not lose that! Place and circumstance had lessened in her estimates of life.

Alice opened the door herself, and with a radiant smile of hungry delight enveloped Isabelle in her arms.

"Where did you drop from, Belle?"

"Oh, I thought I'd come on," Isabelle replied vaguely, not liking to mention the trial.

"And you found your way out here, and navigated that ewer safely! The boys find it surpassingly attractive,--as a coal mine, or a canal in Mars, or the Panama ditch. I've tried to induce Mr. Jorgesson, the contractor, to hang out a lantern or two at night. But he evidently thinks well of the caution and sobriety of the Johnston family and prefers to take his chances of a suit for damages. So far the family has escaped."

Alice's face showed two girlish dimples, while she talked glibly,--too glibly, Isabelle thought. They went into the dining room where there was a tiny coal fire before which Alice had been sewing. Isabelle's namesake--number two in the list--having been considered by her aunt, was dismissed on an errand. The older boys were at school, the baby out in the kitchen "with the colored lady who assists," as Alice explained.

When they were alone, the cousins looked at each other, each thinking of the changes, the traces of life in the other. Isabelle held out her hands yearningly, and Alice, understanding that she knew what had befallen them, smiled with trembling lips. Yet it was long before she could speak of their misfortune in her usual calm manner.

... "The worst is that we have had to take Ned out of the technical institute and send him back to the school here with Jack. It isn't a good school. But we may move into the city in the fall.... And Belle had to give up her music. We all have to chip in, you see!"

"She mustn't give up her music. I shall send her," Isabelle said quickly, reflecting whimsically how she had loathed her own music lessons. Alice flushed, and after a moment's pause said deliberately:--

"Do you really mean that, Isabelle?"

"Of course! I only hope she will get more out of it than I did."

"I should be glad to accept your offer for her sake.... I want her to have something, some interest. A poor girl without that,--it is worse for her than for the boys!"

Isabelle could see Alice's struggle with her pride, and understood the importance of this little matter to her, which had made her deliberately clutch at the chance for the little girl.

"Belle shall come to me to-morrow and spend the day. I will send for the teacher.... Now that's settled, and, Alice, you and Steve will be better off soon! He is too able a man--"

Alice shook her head steadily, saying:--

"I am afraid not, Belle! Steve is too good a man, that is the trouble. I don't say this to him. I wouldn't take a particle of hope from him. But I know Steve all through: he isn't the kind to impress people, to get on,--and he is no longer young."

"It is such a pity he left the railroad," Isabelle mused. "John says they are turning men off instead of taking them on, or he might have found a position for him."

"Never!" Alice's eyes flamed. "If it had to be done over, even now, we should do the same thing.... Steve is slow and quiet, never says much, but he does a lot of thinking. And when he makes up his mind, he sticks.... When he saw what it meant to take that position in the traffic department, what he would have to know and do, he couldn't do it. It is useless trying to make a man like Steve live contrary to his nature. You can't bend a big, thick tree any way you want it."

"But, Alice, he might have been wrong!" Isabelle protested, coloring.

"Yes,--he might have been wrong," Alice admitted, her eyes falling. "But Steve couldn't see it any other way. So he had to do as he did.... And the lumber business failed. I was afraid it would! Dear Steve! He wasn't fitted to fight with those men, to see that they didn't cheat him."

It was later that Alice uttered the deep cry of her heart.

... "Don't think, Belle, that I mind the hard times, the work and all; not even the school for Ned, and the poor prospect for the children. After all, they may do as well without the advantages we could have given them. But what breaks my heart is to see Steve, who is bigger and abler and stronger than most men, go down to the bottom of the ladder and have to take his orders from an ignorant little German. It's small of me, I know, and Steve doesn't complain. But it seems to me terribly unjust somehow."

For a moment her feeling overcame her; then she recovered her composure and continued: "But then, it's Steve! And I wouldn't have him a particle different, not for all the success in the world. You see I have my pride, my snobbery. I am a snob about my husband."

The boys came in from school, and the house shook with racketing children.

"They don't know what has happened, really,--they are too young, thank Heaven!" Alice exclaimed. "And I don't mean they ever shall know--ever think they are poor."

The two stood on the porch for a last word, arranging for the little girl's visit to Isabelle on the morrow. The twilight had descended through the mist.

"See!" Alice said, pointing to the white tree trunks across the street, and the vague fields beyond. "Isn't it very much like that Corot the Colonel used to love so much,--the one in the library? We have our Corot, too.... Good-by, dear! I have chattered frightfully about ourselves. Some day you must tell me of your stay with Mrs. Pole and of yourself."

"There isn't much to tell!"

Alice Johnston, watching her cousin's agreeable figure disappear into the mist, felt that if with Isabelle there might be not much to tell, at least a great deal had happened these last months.

And Isabelle, picking her way cautiously along the sewer excavation, was thinking of the home behind. The couple of hours she had spent with Alice had been filled with a comprehension, a curiously immediate grasp of the other person's vision of life,--what it all meant to her,--Alice's disappointment, her pride in her defeated husband. For the first time in all the years she had known them, Steve and Alice and the children seemed quite real persons, and their life as vivid, as interesting to her, as her own.

Sad as their little story was, in its pathetic limitations of plans and hopes, it did not seem to her intolerable, or sordid, or depressing, as it once would have seemed. Just as she possessed somewhere in herself a new strength to endure whatever misfortune might come to her, so she had an instinctive feeling of how others endured what on the surface of events seemed merely distressing and disagreeable. And the Johnston house, plain and homely as it was, with all the noisy children, had an air of peace about it, the spirit of those that dwelt there, which Isabelle felt to be the most precious thing on earth.... Alice had said, "It's Steve--and I wouldn't have him different for all the success in the world!" The words stung Isabelle. Such was marriage,--perfect marriage,--to be able to say that in the face of worldly defeat. Neither she nor John could ever say that about the other.

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PART SEVEN CHAPTER LXXIVThe newsboys were crying the verdict up and down the wet street. Across the front page of the penny sheet which Isabelle bought ran in broad, splotched letters: GUILTY; RAILROAD GRAFTERS FINED; and in slightly smaller type: _Atlantic and Pacific found guilty of illegal discrimination in famous coal cases--Fined eighty-five thousand dollars. Vice-president Lane, General Traffic Manager of Road, fined thirteen thousand six hundred and eighty dollars_, etc. Isabelle crumpled the paper into her muff and hurried home. As she walked numbly, she thought, 'Why six hundred and eighty dollars? why so exact?' As if the precise measure
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PART SEVEN CHAPTER LXXIIThey 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 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
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