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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Six - Chapter 61
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Together - Part Six - Chapter 61 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :2600

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Together - Part Six - Chapter 61

PART SIX CHAPTER LXI

The 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, where the flowers were already blooming and the birds preparing for the northward flight. It touched the earth through the thick mantle of ice and snow, and underneath in the rocky crust of frozen ground there was the movement of water. The brooks on the hills began to gurgle below the ice.

Up there in the north the snow had come early in the autumn, covering as with a warm blanket this rocky crust before the frost could strike deep. "An early spring," Sol Short announced at dinner, a dreamy look in his eyes, like the soft sky outside, the look of unconscious gladness that rises in man at the thought of the coming year, the great revival of life.... That afternoon Margaret and Isabelle drove over the snowy upland, where the deep drifts in the fields had shrivelled perceptibly, sucked by the warm sun above and the opening earth beneath. The runners of the sleigh cut into the trodden snow, and in the sheltered levels of the road the horse's feet plashed in slush. The birches and alders lifted their bare stems hardily from the retreating drifts. Soft violet lights hovered in the valleys.

"It is coming, Spring!" Margaret cried.

"Remember, Mr. Short said there would be many a freeze before it really came to stay!"

"Yes, but it is the first call; I feel it all through me."

The week before Ned had left the hospital, and for the first time in three years had sat at the table with his brother and sister. His face had lost wholly the gray look of disappointed childhood. Spring, arrested, was coming to him at last....

As they climbed upward into the hills the stern aspect of winter returned, with the deep drifts of snow, the untracked road. When they topped the Pass and looked down over the village and beyond to the northern mountains, the wind caught the sharp edges of the drifts and swept a snowy foam in their faces. But the sun was sinking into a gulf of misty azure and gold, and the breath of awakening earth was rising to meet the sun.

Up here it was still winter, the Past; beneath was the sign of change, the coming of the New. And as Isabelle contemplated the broad sweep below, her heart was still, waiting for whatever should come out of the New.

The sun fell behind the Altar, as they called the flat top of Belton's Mountain, and all about the hills played the upward radiance from its descending beams.... Margaret touched the loafing horse with the whip, and he jogged down into the forest-covered road.

"Rob Falkner lands to-day in New York," Margaret remarked with a steady voice.

Isabelle started from her revery and asked:--

"Does he mean to go back to Panama?"

"I don't believe he knows yet. The life down there is, of course, terribly lonely and unfruitful. The work is interesting. I think he would like to go on with it until he had finished his part. But there are changes; the man he went out with has resigned."

Margaret wanted to talk about him, apparently, for she continued:--

"He has done some very good work,--has been in charge of a difficult cut,--and he has been specially mentioned several times. Did you see the illustrated article in the last _People's_? There were sketches and photographs of his section.... But he hasn't been well lately, had a touch of fever, and needs a rest."

"My husband wrote that they were to be divorced--he had heard so."

"I don't believe it," Margaret replied evenly. "His wife hasn't been down there.... It isn't exactly the place for a woman, at least for one who can't stand monotony, loneliness, and hardship. She has been in Europe with her mother, this last year."

"You know I used to know her very well years ago. She was very pretty then. Everybody liked Bessie," Isabelle mused.

And later she remarked:--

"Singular that _her marriage should be such a failure."

"Is it singular that any given marriage should be a failure?" Margaret asked with a touch of her old irony. "It is more singular to me that any marriage, made as they must be made to-day, should be anything but a dismal failure."

"But Bessie was the kind to be adored. She was pretty, and clever, and amusing,--a great talker and crazy about people. She had real social instinct,--the kind you read of in books, you know. She could make her circle anywhere. She couldn't be alone five minutes,--people clustered around her like bees. Her life might have been a romance, you would suppose,--pretty girl, poor, marries an ambitious, clever man, who arrives with her social help, goes into politics--oh, anything you will!"

"But the real thing," Margaret observed.

"What do you mean?"

"Love! ... Love that understands and helps."

"Well, I saw the most dazzling future for her when she used to give garden parties in Torso, with only two unattached men who were possible in the place! And at least she might have had a small home in the suburbs and an adoring husband home at five-thirty,--but she wasn't that kind.... Poor Bess! I am sorry for her."

"I suppose the reason why a man and a woman hurt instead of help each other in marriage is never known to any one but themselves," Margaret observed dryly, urging on the horse. "And perhaps not even to themselves!"

There was a change in Margaret, an inner ferment that displayed itself in the haze in her clear eyes,--the look of one whose mind broods over the past,--a heightened color, a controlled restlessness of mood. 'No, it is not settled,' thought Isabelle. 'Poor Margaret!' She went about her many duties with the same silent sureness, the same poise as before. Whatever was happening to her was according to the discipline of her nature, controlled, suppressed. 'If she would only splutter,' Isabelle wished, 'instead of looking like a glowing sphinx!'

"Margaret!" she exclaimed in the evening, after a long silence between them. "You are so young--so pretty these days!"

"You think so? Thanks!" Margaret replied, stretching her thin arms above her head, which was crushed against one of Mrs. Short's hard pillows. "I suppose it is the Indian summer, the last warm glow before the end!" She opened her trembling lips in one of her ironical smiles. "There always comes a time of ripeness to a woman before she goes over the hill into old age."

"Nonsense! You are younger than you were twelve years ago!"

"Yes, I am younger in a sense than I ever was. I am well and strong, and I am in equilibrium, as I never was before.... And it's more than that. We become more vital if we survive the tangle of youth. We see more--we feel more! When I hear girls talk about love, I always want to say: 'What do you know, what _can you know about it! Love isn't born in a woman before she is thirty,--she hasn't the power. She can have children, but she can't love a man.'"

Margaret pressed her hands tensely together and murmured to herself, "For love is born with the soul,--and is the last thing that comes into the heart!"

Isabelle with caressing impulsiveness put her arms about the slight figure.

"I love you, Margaret; it seems as if you were the only person I really loved now! It has been heaven to be with you all these weeks. You calm me, you breathe peace to me.... And I want to help you, now."

Margaret smiled sadly and drew Isabelle's dark head to her and kissed it.

"Nobody can help, dear.... It will come right! It must come right, I am sure."

With the feelings that are beyond expression they held each other thus. Finally Margaret said in a low voice:--

"Rob comes day after to-morrow; he will be at the Inn."

Isabelle rose from the couch with a sudden revulsion in her heart. After all, was this calm, this peace that she had admired in Margaret and longed to possess herself, this Something which she had achieved and which seemed to put her beyond and above ordinary women, nothing but the woman's satisfaction in love, whose lover is seeking her? She found herself almost despising Margaret unreasonably. Some man! That created the firmament of women's heaven, with its sun and its moon and its stars. Remembered caresses and expected joys,--the woman's bliss of yielding to her chosen master,--was that all!

Margaret, following Isabelle with her eyes, seemed to comprehend this sudden change in her heart. But she merely remarked:--

"He cannot stay long,--only a couple of days, I believe."

"Tell me," Isabelle demanded sharply, as if she had the right to know, must know, "what are you going to do?"

Margaret closed her eyes, and after a time of utter stillness she said in a voice beseechingly tender:--

"Dear, perhaps I do not know, yet."

Her eyes were wet with unaccustomed tears. Stretching a hand to Isabelle and smiling again, she murmured:--

"Whatever it will be, you must trust that it will be right for me and for him,--you must know that."

Isabelle pressed her hand gently:--

"Forgive me."

"And some day I will tell you."

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PART SIX CHAPTER LXIIMrs. Short peered through the dining-room window on the snow field,--a dazzling white under the March sun now well above the hills,--and watched the two black figures tracking their way on snow-shoes towards the forest. Margaret's slight figure swept ahead with a skill and assurance that the taller one did not show. "I guess," mused the blacksmith's wife, "that life on the Isthmus of Panama don't fit a man much to distinguish himself on those things." Nevertheless, the man tramped laboriously behind the woman until the two were halted by a fence, now visible through the sunken drift.
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PART SIX CHAPTER LXWhen 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
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