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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Six - Chapter 64
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Together - Part Six - Chapter 64 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :3394

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Together - Part Six - Chapter 64

PART SIX CHAPTER LXIV

Dr. 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 table. They had stood like this a long time while the gray day came to an end outside and the trees lashed by the north wind bent and groaned. Isabelle was passing the office, after dinner, on some errand, and the doctor had called her. Accident had led to this long talk, the longest and the deepest she had had with Renault. One thing had touched another until she had bared to him her heart, had laid before his searching gaze the story of her restless, futile life. And the words that he had spoken had dropped like hot metal upon her wounds and burned until her hands trembled as they leaned upon his desk....

"The discipline of life!" he had said. The phrase was hateful to her. It stirred within her all the antagonism of her generation to the creed of her people, to the Puritan ideal, cold, narrow, repressive. And yet Renault was far from being a Puritan. But he, too, believed in the "discipline of life." And again when she had confessed her ambitions for "a broad life," "for experience," he had said: "Egotism is the pestilence of our day,--the sort of base intellectual egotism that seeks to taste for the sake of tasting. Egotism is rampant. And worst of all it has corrupted the women, in whom should lie nature's great conservative element. So our body social is rotten with intellectual egotism. Yes, I mean just what you have prided yourself on,--Culture, Education, Individuality, Cleverness,--'leading your own lives,' Refinement, Experience, Development, call it what you will,--it is the same, the inturning of the spirit to cherish self. Not one of all you women has a tenth of the experience my mother had, who, after bringing up her family of eight, at fifty-seven went to the town school to learn Latin, because before she had not had the time."...To some defence of her ideal by Isabelle, he retorted with fine scorn:--

"Oh, I know the pretty impression our American women make in the eyes of visiting foreigners,--so 'clever,' so 'fascinating,' so 'original,' so 'independent,' and such 'charm'! Those are the words, aren't they? While their dull husbands are 'money-getters.' They at least are doers, not talkers! ...

"Do you know what you are, women like you, who have money and freedom to 'live your own lives'? You are sexless; you haven't nature's great apology for the animal,--desire. Such women sin, when they sin, with their minds. Great God! I had rather those broad-hipped Italian peasant women of Calabria, with solid red-brown flesh, bred bastards for the country than have these thin, anaemic, nervous, sexless creatures, with their 'souls' and their 'charm,' marry and become mothers! What have you done to the race? The race of blond giants from the forests of the north? Watch the avenue in New York!"

Again,--"So what have you made of marriage, 'leading your own lives'? You make marriage a sort of intelligent and intellectual prostitution--and you develop divorce. The best among you--those who will not marry unless the man can arouse their 'best selves'--will not bear children even then. And you think you have the right to choose again when your so-called souls have played you false the first time.... And man, what of him? You leave him to his two gross temptations,--Power and Lust. Man is given you to protect, and you drive him into the market-place, where he fights for your ease, and then relaxes in the refined sensualities you offer him as the reward for his toil. With the fall of man into the beast's trough must come the degradation of women. They cannot travel apart; they must pull together. What have _you done for your husband?" He turned sharply on Isabelle. "Where is he now? where has he been all these years? What is he doing this hour? Have you nursed his spirit, sharpened his sword? ... I am not speaking of the dumb ones far down in the mass, nor of the humdrum philistines that still make homes, have traces of the nest-instinct left; but of you, _you_,--the developed intelligences who flatter yourselves that you lead because you are free to do as you like. By your minds you are betrayed!"

Before the blast of his scorching words Isabelle saw her ambitions shrivel into petty nothings,--all the desires from her first married days to find a suitable expression of her individuality, her wish to escape Torso, her contempt for St. Louis, her admiration for Cornelia Woodyard, her seeking for "interesting" people and a cultivated and charming background for herself, and last of all her dissatisfaction in her marriage because it failed to evoke in her the passion she desired. It was a petty story, she felt,--ashamed before Renault's irony.

He knew her life, more than she had told him, much more. He knew _her_. He read below the surface and had known her from the first hour they had met. It was all true,--she had wanted many things that now she saw were futile. She had accepted her marriage as failure--almost with relief, as an excuse for her restlessness. Yes, she had made mistakes; what was worse, was a mistake herself! Crushed with this sense of futility, of failure, she cried:--

"But we are caught in the stream when we are young and eager. The world seems so big and rich if you but reach out your hand to take."

"And from its feast you took--what?"

She was silent, self-convicted; for she had taken chaff! ...Nevertheless, it was not dead within her--the self. It cried out under Renault's pitiless scorn for satisfaction, for life. The rebellious surge of desire still suffocated her at times. There was beauty, the loveliness of the earth, the magic wonder of music and art,--all the clamor of emotion for an expression of self. And love? Ah, that was dead for her. But the life within, the self, still hungered for possession at times more fiercely than ever. Why should it be killed at her age? Why were they not good, these hungry desires, this fierce self that beat in her blood for recognition? The conquering, achieving SELF! That was the spirit of her race, to see and take that which was good in their eyes, to feed the SELF with all that the world contained of emotions, ideas, experience; to be big, and strong, and rich,--to have Power! That was what life had meant for her ancestors ever since the blond race emerged from their forests to conquer. All else was death to the self, was merely sentimental deception, a playing at resignation....

As if he traced her fast thoughts, Renault said:--

"A house divided against itself--"

"But even if I have failed--"

"Failed because you did not look deep enough within!"

Renault's voice insensibly softened from his tone of harsh invective as he added:--

"And now you know what I meant when I said that a neurasthenic world needed a new religion!"

So he had remembered her,--knew her all the time!

"But you can't get it because you need it--"

"Yes, because you feel the need! ... Not the old religion of abnegation, the impossible myths that come to us out of the pessimistic East, created for a relief, a soporific, a means of evasion,--I do not mean that as religion. But another faith, which abides in each one of us, if we look for it. We rise with it in the morning. It is a faith in life apart from our own personal fate.... Because we live on the surface, we despair, we get sick. Look below into the sustaining depths beyond desire, beyond self, to the depths,--and you will find it. It will uplift you.... When you wake in the morning, there will come to you some mysterious power that was not there before, some belief, some hope, some faith. Grasp it! ... When the clouds lift, the physical clouds and the mental clouds, then appears the Vision and the knowledge. They are the truth from the depths within,--the voice of the spirit that lives always. And by that voice man himself lives or dies, as he wills,--by the voice of the spirit within."

So as the drear day of the dying winter drew to a close, as the ashes powdered on the hearth and the face of Renault became obscure in the twilight, the dim outlines of a great meaning rose before her, reconciling all.... The Vision that abides within apart from the teasing phantasmagoria of sense, the Vision that comes, now dim, now vivid, as the flash of white light in the storm, the Vision towards which mankind blindly reaches, the Vision by which he may learn to live and endure all!

And this Vision was all that really mattered,--to see it, to follow where it pointed the way!

... "The waste in life, the wrong steps, the futile years!" she murmured.

"Rather the cost, the infinite cost of human souls--and their infinite value once born," Renault corrected. "Do not distress yourself about what to do, the claims of this or that. The thing to do will always be clear, once you trust yourself, seek wholly the Vision. And as for beauty and satisfaction and significance,--it is infinite in every moment of every life--when the eyes are once open to see!"

There was the sound of footsteps outside, and Isabelle moved to the door.

"So," Renault concluded, putting his hands on her shoulders, "it is not the End but the Beginning. And always so,--a mysterious journey, this life, with countless beginnings.... We go out into the night. But the light comes--when we forget to see ourselves."

The wind raged in the trees outside, sweeping across the earth, tearing the forest, cleansing and breaking its repose, preparing for the renewal to come. Like a mighty voice it shouted to man; like the whirlwind it shook his earth.... For the first time since Vickers lay dead in the dawn of the June morning Isabelle could bear to look at the past,--to accept it calmly as part of herself out of which she had lived, in recognition of that beginning within.

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