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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Six - Chapter 60
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Together - Part Six - Chapter 60 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :2845

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Together - Part Six - Chapter 60

PART SIX CHAPTER LX

When Isabelle woke, the morning sun fretted the green shutters. She was tired in every limb,--limp, content to lie in bed while Mrs. Strong lighted the fire, threw open the shutters, and brought breakfast and the mail. Through the east windows the sun streamed in solidly, flooding the counterpane, warming the faded roses of the wall paper. A bit of the north range of hills, the flat summit of Belton's Top with a glittering ice-cap, she could see above the gray gable of the barn. The sky was a soft, cloudless blue, and the eaves were busily dripping in a drowsy persistency.

She liked to lie there, watching the sun, listening to the drip, her letters unopened, her breakfast untouched. She was delightfully empty of thoughts. But one idea lay in her mind,--she should stay on, here, just here. Since she had packed her trunk the Sunday before, a great deal seemed to have happened,--a space had been placed between the outer world that she had restlessly turned back towards and herself. Some day she should go back to that other world--to Molly and John and all the rest. But not now--no!...

As she lay there, slowly the little things of the past weeks since she had travelled the cold road from White River--the impressions, the sights, the ideas--settled into her thought, pushing back the obstinate obsessions that had possessed her for months. The present began to be important, to drive out the past. Outside in the street some one whistled, the bells of the passing sleds jangled, a boy's treble halloa sounded far away,--unconscious voices of the living world, like the floating clouds, the noise of running water, the drip of the melting snow on the eaves,--so good it all was and real! ...

Margaret had found that Peace the doctor had spoken of, Margaret whose delicate curving lips had always seemed to her the symbol of discontent, of the inadequacy of life. Margaret had found it, and why not she? ... That explained the difference she felt these days in Margaret. There had always been something fine and sweet in the Southern woman, something sympathetic in her touch, in the tone of her voice even when she said cynical things. Now Margaret never said bitter things, even about the wretched Larry. She had always been a listener rather than a talker, but now there was a balm in her very presence, a touch upon the spirit, like a cool hand on the brow. Yes! She had found that rightful heritage of Peace and breathed it all around her, like warmth and light.

Margaret came in with the noon mail, which she had collected from the box in the post-office. As she tossed the papers and letters on the bed, Isabelle noticed another of the oblong letters in the familiar handwriting from Panama....

"Or is it that?" she asked herself for a moment, and then was ashamed. The smile, the clear look out of the deep eyes, the caressing hand that stroked her face, all said no,--it was not that! And if it were, it must be good.

"So you are going to stay with us a while longer, Isabelle.... I shall unpack your trunk and hide it," Margaret said with smiling conviction.

"Yes,--I shall stay, for the present.... Now I must get into my clothes. I've been lazing away the whole morning here--not even reading my letters!"

"That's right," Margaret drawled. "Doing nothing is splendid for the temperament. That's why the darkies have such delightful natures. They can sit whole days in the sun and never think a thought." With her hand on the door she turned: "You must send for Molly,--it will be good for her to forget the dancing lessons and frocks. My children will take her down to Mill Hill and make a boy of her."

"Well,--but she will be a nuisance, I am afraid. She is such a young lady."...

At last Isabelle tore open a letter from her husband, one that Margaret had just brought. It was concise and dry, in the economical epistolary style into which they had dropped with each other. He was glad to hear that her rest in the country was doing her good. If it agreed with her and she was content, she had better stay on for the present. He should be detained in the West longer than he had expected. There were important suits coming on against the railroad in which he should be needed, hearings, etc. At the close there was an unusually passionate sentence or two about "the public unrest and suspicion," and the President and the newspapers. "They seem to like the smell of filth so much that they make a supply when they can't find any."

Broils of the world! The endless struggle between those who had and those who envied them what they had. There was another side, she supposed, and in the past Cairy had been at some pains to explain that other side to her. Her husband must of course be prejudiced, like her father; they saw it all too close. However, it was a man's affair to settle, unless a woman wished to play Conny's role and move her husband about the board. Broils! How infinitely far away it seemed, all the noise of the world! ... She began to dress hurriedly to report at the hospital for the afternoon. As she glanced again at her husband's letter, she saw a postscript, with some scraps of St. Louis gossip:--

"I hear that Bessie is to get a divorce from Falkner. I wonder if it can be true.... I saw Steve in the street last week. From what I learn the lumber business isn't flourishing.... Pity he didn't swallow his scruples and stay with us where he would be safe!"

Poor Alice--if Steve should fail now, with all those children! And then she remembered what Alice Johnston had said to Vickers, "You see we have been poor so much of the time that we know what it is like." It would take a good deal to discourage Alice and Steve. But John must keep an eye on them, and try to help Steve. John, it occurred to her then for the first time, was that kind,--the substantial sort of man that never needed help himself, on which others might lean.

* * * * *

So Isabelle stayed in the mountain village through the winter months. Molly came with her governess, and both endeavored to suppress politely their wonder that any one could imprison herself in this dreary, cold place. The regular nurses came back to the hospital, but Isabelle, once having been drawn in, was not released.

"He's a hard master," Margaret said of the doctor. "If he once gets his hand on you, he never lets go--until he is ready to."

Apparently Renault was not ready to let go of Isabelle. Without explaining himself to her, he kept her supplied with work, and though she saw him often every day, they rarely talked, never seriously. He seemed to avoid after that first night any opportunity for personal revelation. The doctor was fond of jokes and had the manner of conducting his affairs as if they were a game in which he took a detached and whimsical interest. If there was sentiment in his nature, an emotional feeling towards the work he was doing, it was well concealed, first with drollery, and then with scientific application. So far as any one could observe the daily routine, there was nothing, at least in the surgical side of the hospital, that was not coldly scientific. As Renault had said, "We do what we can with every instrument known to man, every device, drug, or pathological theory." And his mind seemed mostly engrossed with this "artisan" side of his profession, in applying his skill and learning and directing the skill and learning of others. It was only in the convalescent ward that the other side showed itself,--that belief in the something spiritual, beyond the physical, to be called upon. One of the doctors, a young Norwegian named Norden, was his assistant in this work. And every one in the place felt that Norden was closest of all to the doctor. Norden in his experiments with nervous diseases used hypnotism, suggestion, psychotherapy,--all the modern forms of supernaturalism. His attitude was ever, as he said to Isabelle, "It might be--who knows?"--"There is truth, some little truth in all the ages, in all the theories and beliefs." Isabelle had a strong liking for this uncouth Northman with his bony figure and sunken eyes that seemed always burning with an unattained desire, an inexpressible belief. Norden said to her, the only way is "to recognize both soul and body in dealing with the organism. Medicine is a Religion, a Faith, a great Solution. It ought to be supported by the state, free to all.... The old medicine is either machine work or quackery, like the blood-letting of barbers." ...

It was an exhilarating place to live in, Renault's hospital,--an atmosphere of intense activity, mental and physical, with a spirit of some large, unexpressed truth, a passionate faith, that raised the immediate finite and petty task to a step in the glorious ranks of eternity. The personality of Renault alone kept this atmosphere from becoming hectic and sentimental. He held this ship that he steered so steadily in the path of fact that there was no opportunity for emotional explosions. But he himself was the undefined incarnate Faith that made the voyage of the last importance to every one concerned. Small wonder that the doctors and nurses--the instruments of his will--"could not be driven away"! They had caught the note, each one of them, of that unseen power and lived always in the hope of greater revelations to come.

As the order of the days settled into a rhythmic routine with the passing of the weeks, Isabelle Lane desired more and more to come closer to this man who had touched her to the quick, to search more clearly for her personal Solution which evaded her grasp. There were many questions she wished to have answered! But Renault had few intimate moments. He avoided personalities, as if they were a useless drain upon energy. His message was delivered at casual moments. One day he came up behind Isabelle in the ward, and nodding towards Molly, who was reading a story to one of the little girl patients, said:--

"So you have put daughter to some use?"

"Yes!" Isabelle exclaimed irritably. "I found her going over her dresses for the tenth time and brought her along.... However does she get that air of condescension! Look at her over there playing the grand lady in her pretty frock for the benefit of these children. Little Snob! She didn't get _that from me."

"Don't worry. Wait a day or two and you will see the small girl she is reading to hand her one between the eyes," Renault joked. "She's on to Miss Molly's patronage and airs, and she has Spanish blood in her. Look at her mouth now. Doesn't it say, 'I am something of a swell myself?"

"They say children are a comfort!" Isabelle remarked disgustedly. "They are first a care and then a torment. In them you see all that you dislike in yourself popping up--and much more besides. Molly thinks of nothing but clothes and parties and etiquette. She has twice the social instinct I ever had. I can see myself ten years hence being led around by her through all the social stuff I have learned enough to avoid."

"You can't be sure."

"They change, but not the fundamentals. Molly is a little _mondaine_,--she showed it in the cradle."

"But you don't know what is inside her besides that tendency, any more than you know now what is inside yourself and will come out a year hence."

"If I don't know myself at my age, I must be an idiot!"

"No one knows the whole story until the end. Even really aged people develop surprising qualities of character. It's a Christmas box--the inside of us; you can always find another package if you put your hand in deep enough and feel around. Molly's top package seems to be finery. She may dip lower down."

'So I am dipping here in Grosvenor,' thought Isabelle, 'and I may find the unexpected!' ... This was an empty quarter of an hour before dinner and Renault was talkative.

"Who knows?" he resumed whimsically. "You might have a good sense of humor somewhere, Mrs. Lane, pretty well buried."

Isabelle flushed with mortification.

"You are witty enough, young woman. But I mean real humor, not the rattle of dry peas in the pod that goes for humor at a dinner party. Do you know why I keep Sam about the place,--that fat lazy beggar who takes half an hour to fetch an armful of wood? Because he knows how to laugh. He is a splendid teacher of mirth. When I hear him laugh down in the cellar, I always open the door and try to get the whole of it. It shakes my stomach sympathetically. The old cuss knows it, too, which is a pity! ... Well, young mademoiselle over there is play-acting to herself; she thinks she will be a grand lady like mamma. God knows what she will find more interesting before she reaches the bottom of the box. Don't worry! And did you ever think where they catch the tricks, these kids? If you went into it, you could trace every one down to some suggestion; it wouldn't take you long to account for that high and mighty air in your child that you don't fancy. If you don't want her to pick up undesirable packages, see that they aren't handed out to her."

"But she has had the best--"

"Yes, of course. Lord! the best! Americans are mad for the best. Which means the highest priced. I've no doubt, Mrs. Lane, you have given Molly all the disadvantages.... Did you ever sit down for five minutes and ask yourself seriously what is the best, humanly speaking, for that child? What things _are best any way? ... Do you want her to end where you are at your age?"

Isabelle shook her head sadly:--

"No,--not that!"

"Cultivate the garden, then.... Or, to change the figure, see what is handed out to her.... For every thought and feeling in your body, every act of your will, makes its trace upon her,--upon countless others, but upon her first because she is nearest."

Molly, having closed her book and said good-evening to the little patient, came up to her mother.

"It is time, I think, mamma, for me to go home to dress for dinner." She looked at the little watch pinned to her dress. Renault and Isabelle laughed heartily.

"What pebble that you tossed into the pool produced that ripple, do you think?" the doctor quizzed, twirling Molly about by her neck, much to her discomfort.

"He treats me like a child, too," Isabelle complained to Margaret; "gives me a little lesson now and then, and then says 'Run along now and be a good girl.'"

"It is a long lesson," Margaret admitted, "learning how to live, especially when you begin when we did. But after you have turned the pages for a while, somehow it counts."

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PART SIX CHAPTER LXIThe first of March was still deep winter in Grosvenor, but during the night the southwest wind had begun to blow, coming in at Isabelle's window with the cool freshness of anticipated spring. The day was calm and soft, with films of cloud floating over the hills, and the indefinable suggestion of change in the air, of the breaking of the frost. The southwest wind had brought with it from the low land the haze, as if it had come from far warm countries about the Gulf the flowers were already blooming and the birds preparing for
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PART SIX CHAPTER LIXJust as Isabelle had completed her packing on Sunday afternoon, a message came to her from Dr. Renault through Margaret. "We need another woman,--two of our nurses have been called away and a third is sick. Will you give us some help?" "I am going up myself for the night," Margaret added. "They are badly pushed,--six new cases the last three days." So the night found Isabelle under the direction of Mrs. Felton, the little black-haired woman whose "case" the doctor had analyzed for her. It was a long night, and the next morning, all the experienced nurses
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