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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Six - Chapter 63
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Together - Part Six - Chapter 63 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :1903

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Together - Part Six - Chapter 63

PART SIX CHAPTER LXIII

Supper at the Shorts' was the pleasantest time of the day. The small, plain room, warm and light and homely, the old blacksmith's contented face as he sat at the head of his table and served the food, glancing now and then with a meaning look at his wife, mutely talking with her, and the two friends in light summer dresses chatting of the day,--it was all so remote from the bustle of life, so simply peaceful that to Isabelle supper at the Shorts' was the symbol of Grosvenor life as much as Renault's hospital. It was the hour when the blacksmith's ripest wisdom and best humor came to the surface; when, having pounded existence and lassitude out of iron and wood in the little shop down the street, he relaxed the muscles of his tired body and looked over to his wife and found the world good.

"Theirs is the figure of perfect marriage," Margaret had said; "interlocked activity, with emotional satisfaction. Mrs. Short's climax of the day is her hot supper laid before her lord.... Do you see how they talk without words across the table? They know what the other is thinking always. So the Shorts have found what so many millions miss,--a real marriage!"

To-night when Falkner came back with Margaret for supper, this note of perfect domesticity was at its best. Mr. Short had gone to the cellar for a bottle of cider wine in honor of the guest from Panama, and his wife rustled in black silk. She had made a marvellous cake that sat proudly on the sideboard, looking down on the feast. The blacksmith carved the hot meat, and in his gentle voice talked to the stranger.

"You must have found it hard work when the snow got soft on the hills. As I felt the sun coming down warm, I said to myself, 'Those shoes will seem as big as cart-wheels to him.'... You were up by Belton's? There's big timber in there still, back on the mountain, where they found it too hard to get out. You come across a great log now and then that looks like a fallen giant.... But I remember on my father's farm, twenty miles from here in the back country, when I was a boy"--

He held the carving-knife suspended above the steak, lost in the vista of years. These anecdotal attacks worried his wife, who feared for her hot food; but the others encouraged him.

--"there were trees lying on the ground in the pasture rotting, that must have been five feet through at the butt end. I used to sit atop of them and think how big they would have been standing up with their tops waving.... Yes, wood was cheap in those days."...

Isabelle, as she watched Margaret and Falkner, was puzzled. Margaret in her rose-colored tea-gown was like a glowing coal, but Falkner seemed glum and listless. "Tired, poor man!" Mrs. Short thought, and the blacksmith had full scope for his memories. But gradually Falkner became interested and asked questions. As a boy he had lived in the country, and in the atmosphere of the Shorts the warm memories of those days revived, and he talked of his own country up in the "big timber" of Michigan. Margaret, resting her head on her hands, watched his eager eyes. She knew, so well, what was in his mind below his memories. 'These good people have all this! these simple people, just the plain, elementary, ordinary things of life,--a peaceful shelter, warmth, comfort, happiness. And we, she and I, might have this and so much more,--a thousand interests and ecstasies, but we who are still young must live on in cheerless separation, missing all this--and for what?'

She read it in his eyes. She knew the man-nature, how it develops when middle life comes,--the desire for home, for the settled and ordered spot, the accustomed shelter. When the zest of the wandering days no longer thrills, the adventurous and experimenting impulse is spent, that is what man, even a passionate lover, craves to find in a woman,--peace and the ordered life. And she could give it to this man, who had never had it,--companionship and comradeship as well, and make an inner spot of peace where the man might withdraw from the fighting world. Oh, she knew how to fit his life like a spirit! ...

When Falkner rose to leave, Margaret slipped on a long coat, saying:--

"I will show you the way to the Inn; you would never find it alone!"

As she took his arm outside, he asked dully:--

"Which way now?"

"This is our way first," and Margaret turned up the road away from the village, past the doctor's house. They walked in silence. When she pointed out Renault's hospital, Falkner looked at it indifferently. "Queer sort of place for a hospital. What kind of a man is he?"

"A queer sort of man," Margaret replied.

Beyond the hospital the road mounted the hillside, passing through dark woods. Beneath their feet the frozen snow crunched icily.

"Good people that blacksmith and his wife," Falkner remarked. "That was the kind of thing I dreamed it would be,--a place, a spot, of our own, no matter how plain and small, and some one to look across the table as that gray-haired woman looks at the old fellow, as if she knew him to the roots.... I hope it will be some time before they get the apartment hotel in Grosvenor! ... A man has his work," he mused.

"Yes, the man has his work."

"And a woman her children."

"And the woman her children."

"So that is what life comes to in the middle distance,--the man has his work and the woman her children.... But one doesn't marry for that! There is something else."

Her clasp tightened on his arm, and he turned quickly and taking the fingers in his hand separated them one by one between his. In the starlight he could see the fine line of her face from brow to pointed chin, and he could hear her breathing.

"This, this!" he muttered fiercely. "Your touch, so; your look, so--your voice in my ear--what makes it magic for me? Why not another? Any other--why this? To go to the heart of one! Yours--which will never be mine."

The sweep of dominating desire, the male sense of mastery and will to possess, surged up again in the man, tempting him to break the barriers she had erected between them, to take her beyond her scruples, and carry her with him, as the strong man of all time has carried away the woman whom he would have for mate.

She held her face upwards for his kiss, and as she trembled once more in the arms of the man she had consented to, there was answered in her the mystery he had propounded,--'Because of the I within me that he loves and respects, because of that I which is mine and no other's, not even his,--therefore he loves me of all the world,--I am his soul!'...

It was all snowy upland near the crest of the hill. They leaned against a rock, close together, and listened to the stillness around them, his arm beneath her cloak drawing her closer, closer to him, away from herself. In the forgetfulness of joy she seemed mounting, floating, high up above all, the man's desire bearing her on wings away from the earth with its failure and sorrow, up to the freedom she had thirsted for, up to fulfilment....

Now his eyes, once more victorious, looked close into hers, and something within her spoke,--low and sweet and far away....

"I love you, dearest! I will be yours, as you will have me,--as we were those other days, and more. Much more! I will be your slave, your mistress,--to do with as you wish, to take and leave.... There can be no marriage, none. Will you have me? Will you take me like that? To be your thing? Will you ... and throw me away when I am used and finished for you? ... I will give you all! Now! ... And when the time comes that must come, I will go out."

Then, at last, the man saw! She would give all, even her own soul, if he would take it. But first, there was something he must kill,--there in her body within his close embrace, with her breath on his face,--something she offered him as a last gift to kill.... The body was but a symbol, a piece of clothing, a rag.... So he understood, and after a long time his arms loosened about her.

"I see," he whispered, and as he kissed her lips, "Never that!"

The summit of the mountain loomed above them,--the Altar. Margaret as they turned towards the village stretched her arms upwards to the Altar,--there where she had lain as it were naked for the sacrifice before the man she loved. "Come!" he said gently.

They had kissed for the last time.

* * * * *

As they approached the Inn at the farther end of the village, Falkner was saying in reply to her question:--

"Yes, after I have seen something of Mildred, I shall go to Washington to join the chief. He will want me to live up in the country at the works. I shall like that.... The dam will take three years at least, I suppose. It must be like the work of the ancient Egyptians, for all time and colossal. I wish the work might last out my day!"

The woman's heart tightened. Already he had swung, as she willed, to the one steadfast star in his firmament,--work, accomplishment,--accepting the destiny she had willed, to struggle upwards apart from her to that high altar where they both had stood this night....

When Margaret entered the house, Isabelle's light was still burning and her door was open. She paused as she passed to her room, her coat flung back revealing the soft rose color beneath, and in her white face her eyes shone softly.

"Rob leaves to-morrow morning by the early train," she remarked.

"So soon!"

"Yes,--for the West."

And then Isabelle knew, as Margaret had promised.

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PART SIX CHAPTER LXIVDr. Renault's private office was a large, square room with a north window that gave a broad view of the pointed Albany mountains. Along the walls were rows of unpainted wooden shelves on which were stacked books and pamphlets. One small piece of bronze on the shelf above the fireplace--a copy of the seated Mercury in the Naples museum--was the sole ornament in the room. A fire was dying on the hearth this gray March afternoon, and flashes of light from a breaking log revealed the faces of Renault and Isabelle, standing on opposite sides of his work
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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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