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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Six - Chapter 62
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Together - Part Six - Chapter 62 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :1870

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Together - Part Six - Chapter 62

PART SIX CHAPTER LXII

Mrs. 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. They faced each other, and were evidently discussing mirthfully how the obstacle was to be met. The man stooped to untie the shoes, his pockets bulging with the day's luncheon; but suddenly the woman backed away and began to climb the fence, a difficult feat. The man lumbered after her, catching one shoe in the top rail, finally freeing himself. Then the two black figures were lost over the dip of the hill. The smile still lingered on Mrs. Short's face,--the smile that two beings, man and woman, still young and vital, must always bring, as though saying, 'There's spring yet in the world, and years of life and hope to come!'

* * * * *

Behind the hill in the hollow Margaret was showing Falkner how to squat on his shoes and coast over the crust. At the bottom of the slide the brook was gurgling under a film of ice. The upward slope untouched by the sun, was glare ice, and they toiled. Beyond was the forest with its black tree trunks amid the clotted clumps of snowy underbrush. Falkner pushed on with awkward strength to reach Margaret, who lingered at the opening of the wood. How wonderful she was, he thought, so well, so full of life and fire,--O God! all woman! And his heart beat hard, now that what he had seen these two years behind the curtain of his eyes was so near,--after all the weary months of heat and toil and desire! Only she was more, so much more--as the achieved beauty of the day is more than memory or anticipation....

She smiled a welcome when he reached her, and pointed away to the misty hills. "The beauty of it!" she whispered passionately. "I adore these hills, I worship them. I have seen them morning and night all these months. I know every color, every rock and curving line. It is like the face, of a great austere God, this world up here, a God that may be seen."

"You have made me feel the hills in your letters."

"Now we see them together.... Isn't it wonderful to be here in it all, you and I, together?"

He held his arms to her.

"Not yet," she whispered, and sped on into the still darkness between the fir branches. He followed.

So on, on over the buried bushes, across the trickly, thawing streams, through a thick swamp, close with alder and birch, on up the slope into woods more largely spaced, where great oaks towered among the fir and the spruce, and tall white birches glimmered in the dusk--all still and as yet dead. And on far up the mountain slope until beneath the Altar they came to a little circle, hedged round with thick young firs, where the deep snow was tracked with footprints of birds and foxes. Margaret leaned against the root of a fallen birch and breathed deeply. She had come like the wind, swift and elusive, darting through the forest under the snowy branches, as if--so felt the man with his leashed desire of her--the mere physical joy of motion and air and sun and still woods were enough, and love had been lost in the glory of the day! ...

"Here," she murmured with trembling lips, "at last!"

"At last!" he echoed, her eyes close to his. And as they waited a moment before their lips met, the woman's face softened and changed and pleaded with him wistfully, all the sorrow of waiting and hunger, of struggle and triumph in her eyes, and memory of joy and ecstasy that had been.... Her head fell to his shoulder, all will gone from her body, and she lay in his arms.

"Love!" she murmured; "my soul's desire, at last!" ...

* * * * *

They had their luncheon there, in the sunny circle among the firs, and spoke of their two years' separation.

"And I am not going back!" Falkner cried joyously.

"You have decided already?"

"My chief has resigned, you know,--and there is a piece of work up North here he wants me for.... But that is not all the reason!"

Her face blanched. They had begun their journey again, and were following the ridge of the mountain in the light of the westering sun. They walked slowly side by side so that they might talk. Margaret looked up questioningly.

"You and I have always been honest--direct with each other," he said.

She nodded gravely.

"We have never slipped into things; we have looked ahead, looked it all in the face."

"Yes!" she assented proudly.

"Then we will look this in the face together.... I have come back for one thing--for you!"

As he drew her to him, she laid her hands on his breast and looked at him sadly.

"The other was not enough!"

"Never!--nothing could ever be enough but to have you always."

"Dearest, that I might forever give you all that you ever desired! All!" she cried out of the tenderest depth of a woman's heart,--the desire to give all, the best, to the man loved, the sacrificial triumph of woman, this offering of body and soul and life from the need to give, give, give!

"I have come for one thing," he said hoarsely; "for you!"

She drew herself back from his arms unconsciously and said:--

"You must understand.... Dearest, I love you as I never loved you before. Not even when you came to me and gave me life.... I long to give you all--for always. But, dearest, for us it--cannot be."

"I do not understand," Falkner protested. "You think I am not free,--but I have come to tell you--"

"No,--listen first! And you and I will be one in this as we always have been one since the beginning.... When we went away together those days, we climbed the heights--you gave me my soul--it was born in your arms. And I have lived since with that life. And it has grown, grown--I see so much farther now into the infinite that we reached out to then. And I see clearly what has been in the past--oh, so clearly!"

"But why should that divide us now?"

"Listen! ... Now it is different. He, my husband, would be between us always, as he was not then. I took what I needed then--took it fiercely. I never thought of him. But now I see how all along from the beginning I withdrew my hand from him. Perhaps that was the reason he went so desperately to pieces at the end. I could not have made him a strong man. But, dearest, he died utterly alone, disgraced in his own heart--alone! That is awful to think of!"

"It was his nature," Falkner protested sternly.

"It was his nature to be weak and small and petty.... But don't you see that I deserted him--I took back my hand! And now I should let you take back yours.... Yes,--I have changed, dearest. I have come to understand that the weak must be the burden of the strong--always!"

Falkner's lean face grew hard with the lines of hunger,--repressed but not buried,--the lines of inner strife. In a dry voice he said:--

"I thought that we had settled all that once, Margaret."

"One cannot settle such things so.... It has come to me--the light--slowly, so slowly. And it is not all clear yet. But I see a larger segment of the circle than we could see two years ago." ...

Without more words they began to descend towards the village. The hills that compassed their view were rimmed with the green and saffron lights of the afterglow. Their summits were sharp edged as if drawn by a titanic hand against a sea of glowing color. But within the forests on the slope there was already the gloom of night. Slowly the words fell from his lips:--

"I will never believe it! Why should a man and a woman who can together make the world brave and noble and full of joy be parted--by anything? A sacrifice that gives nothing to any one else!"

That cry was the fruit of the man's two years' battle alone with his heart. To that point of hunger and desire he had come from the day when they parted, when they made their great refusal....

Both remembered that evening, two years before, when they had sailed back to the land--to part. They remembered the Portuguese ship that was weighing anchor for a distant port. As they looked at it wistfully, he had said, "And why not?" And she had replied with shining eyes, "Because we love too much for that." Then he had accepted,--they had found the heights and on them they would remain, apart in the world of effort, always together in their own world which they had created. Then he had understood and gone away to his struggle. Now he could live no longer in that shadowy union: he had come back to possess his desire.

With her it had been different, this separation.... How much more she loved now than then! Her love had entered into her these two years, deeper to the depths of her being, stronger as she was stronger in body, more vital. It had given her strength even for the great denial to him,--and this she realized miserably; their love had given her strength, had unfolded her soul to herself until she had come to large new spheres of feeling, and could see dimly others beyond. While with him it had burned away all else but one human, personal want. He thought to go back now to their island in the sea,--as if one could ever go back in this life, even to the fairest point of the past! ...

She laid a caressing hand on his arm.

"Don't you see, dearest, that we could never come out again on the heights where we were?"

From the sombre mood of his defeat, he said bitterly:--

"So it was all wrong,--a mistake, a delusion!"

"Never!" she flashed. "Never! Not for one moment since we parted would I give up what has been between us.... You do not understand, dearest! ... Life began for me there. If it had not been for that, this could not be now. But one journeys on from knowledge to knowledge."

"Then why not other heights--together?"

And she whispered back very low:--

"Because we should kill it! All of it... now that I see it would be base. We have risen above that glory,--yes, both of us! We have risen above it, divine as it was. It would be no longer divine, my dearest. I should be but a woman's body in your arms, my lover.... Now we shall rise always, always, together--each in the other!"

The lights of the village shone just below them. A sleigh went tinkling loudly along the road, with the voices of talking people in the dark night. Margaret stopped before they reached the road, and turning to him put her arms about his neck and drew him to her.

"Don't you know that I shall be yours always? Ah, dearest, dearest!"

In the passionate tenderness of her kiss he felt the fulness of victory and defeat. She was his, but never to be his. He kissed her burning eyes.

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