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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Six - Chapter 65
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Together - Part Six - Chapter 65 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :3150

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Together - Part Six - Chapter 65


"They seem to be in such a pother, out in the world," Isabelle remarked to Margaret, as she turned over the leaves of her husband's letter. "The President is calling names, and a lot of good people are calling names back. And neither side seems to like being called names. John doesn't like it, and he calls names. And they sulk and won't play marbles. It all sounds like childish squabbling."

Margaret, who was unusually absent-minded this evening, sighed:--

"So many desires of men, always struggling at cross-purposes! I haven't read the papers for months! They don't seem real up here, somehow. What's happening?"

"I haven't opened my papers, either. Look there!" Isabelle pointed to a pile of unwrapped newspapers in the corner. "But I must go through them and see what John is grumbling about. It isn't like John to grumble at anything." Then she read from her husband's letter: "The President in his besotted vanity and colossal ignorance has succeeded in creating trouble that twenty Presidents won't be able to settle. The evils which he may have corrected are nothing to those he has brought upon innocent people.... So far as our road is concerned, this prejudiced and partisan investigation, instigated by the newspapers and notoriety seekers, will do no great harm.... I suppose you have seen the garbled press account of my cross-examination,--don't let it disturb you."...

Isabelle looked up.

"I wonder what he means by that! 'My cross-examination'? It must be something rather out of the ordinary to stir John to such expression,--'Besotted vanity and colossal ignorance.' Whew!"

After Margaret left, Isabelle began abstractedly to strip the wrappers from the newspapers, glancing at the thickest headlines:--


Here it was at last:--


Isabelle scanned the newspaper column indifferently. As Margaret had said, the squabbles of the great, conglomerate, writhing business world seemed remote indeed. They had never been actual to her, though she was the daughter of a merchant. In the Colonel's house, as in most American homes of the well-to-do, the newspaper was regarded as a necessary evil, largely composed of lies and garbled rumors. It was taken for granted that almost everything to be seen in print was vitiated by sensational falsehood, and so far as "business"--mystic word!--was concerned, all "news" was pure fabrication. This sceptical attitude had been intensified by John, who regarded any criticism of the actions of capital as dictated by envy, as "unpatriotic," aimed at the efforts of the most energetic and respectable element in the community; moreover, "socialistic," that is, subversive of the established order, etc. According to John the ablest men would always "get on top," no matter what laws were made. And getting on top meant that they would do what they wished with their own, i.e. capital. Thus without thinking about it Isabelle had always assumed that men in general were envious of their betters. Sometimes, to be sure, she had suspected that this simple theory might be incomplete, that her husband and his friends might be "narrow." Some people whose opinion she respected even approved of the President's policy in seeking to curb the activities of capital. But she had slight interest in the vexed question, and skipped all references to industrial turmoil in her reading.

So to-night her eyes slipped carelessly down the column, which was not intelligible without previous accounts, and she continued to rip the wrappers from newspapers, letting the stiff parcels of paper drop to the floor. She was thinking of what Renault had said, bits of his phrases constantly floating through her mind. If he had only been more precise! She wanted to know _what to do,--here, now. He had said: "Wait! It will all be clear. It makes little difference what it is. You will find the path." With her eager temperament that was all baffling. Margaret had found her path,--had seen her Vision, and it had brought to her peace. Her restless, bitter nature had been wonderfully changed into something exquisitely calm and poised, so that her very presence, silent in the room, could be felt....

Isabelle's eyes caught the headline in the paper she was opening:--



Isabelle's mind suddenly woke to the present, and she began to read breathlessly: "As a result of the recent investigations by the Interstate Commerce Commission of the relation between the Atlantic and Pacific and certain coal properties, officials of that system have been examined by a special Grand Jury, and it is rumored," etc. Isabelle glanced at the date of the paper. It was a month old! Even now, perhaps, her husband was on trial or had already been tried for illegal acts in the conduct of his business, and she knew nothing about it! Another paper had the item: "This time the district attorney under direction from Washington will not be content to convict a few rate clerks or other underlings. The indictment found against one of the vice-presidents of this great corporation that has so successfully and impudently defied the law will create a profound impression upon the whole country. It is a warning to the corporation criminals that the President and his advisers are not to be frightened by calamity-howlers, and will steadfastly pursue their policy of going higher up in their effort to bring the real offenders before the courts. The coming trial before federal Judge Barstow will be followed with intense interest," etc., etc.

Isabelle rapidly uncovered the remaining newspapers, arranging them in the order of dates, and then glanced through every column in search of news about the trial, even to the editorial comments on the action of the Grand Jury. The earlier papers that had the account of the investigation by the Commission had been destroyed unread, but she inferred from what she saw that the affair rose from the complaint of independent mine-owners in Missouri and Indiana that they were discriminated against by the railroad. The federal authorities were trying to establish the fact of conspiracy on the part of the Atlantic and Pacific to control the coal business along its lines. There were hints of an "inside ring," whose operations tended to defraud both stockholders and public....

As she read the wordy columns of report and suspicion, there suddenly shot into Isabelle's mind a memory of a Sunday afternoon in Torso when she and John had ridden by Mr. Freke's mines and John had said in reply to her question, "Mr. Freke and I do business together." Mr. Freke was the president of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company,--a name that occurred often in the newspaper report, the name which had been spread across the black sheds she had seen that Sunday afternoon. Now she remembered, also, that she had had to sign certain papers for transfer of stock when John had sold something to put the money--into coal. And last of all she remembered at the very beginning of her life in Torso the face of that man in her husband's office and how he had begged for cars, and his cry, "My God! I shall go bankrupt!" Out of it all--the newspaper paragraphs, the legal terms, the editorial innuendoes, the memories--there was shaped something like a coherent picture of what this dispute really meant, and her husband's concern in it.

It was now midnight. Isabelle's mind was stung to keen apprehension. She did not know whether John was guilty of what the government was seeking to prove him guilty. She could not judge whether the government was justified in bringing suit against the railroad and its officials. There was doubtless the other side, John's side. Perhaps it was a technical crime, a formal slip, as she had been told it was in other cases where the government had prosecuted railroads. That would come out clearly at the trial, of course. But the fact that stared her in the face was that her husband was to be _tried_--perhaps was on trial this very day--and she did not even know it! She reached for the papers again and searched for the date of the trial of the coal cases in the federal court. It was to open the nineteenth of March--it was now the twenty-second! And the last paper to reach her was the issue of the eighteenth. The trial had already begun.

Isabelle paced the narrow breadth of her chamber. Her husband was on trial, and he had not written her. His last letters, which she had destroyed, had betrayed signs of irritation, disturbance.... Renault's charge, "The curse of our day is egotism," rang in her ears. She had been so much concerned over her own peace of mind, her own soul, that she had had no room for any perception--even for the man with whom she had lived side by side for ten years! Love or not, satisfaction or not in marriage, it must mean something to live for ten years of life with another human being, eat bread with him, sleep under the same roof with him, bear a child to him.... And there in her silent room Isabelle began to see that there was something in marriage other than emotional satisfaction, other than conventional cohabitation. "Men are given to you women to protect--the best in them!" "You live off their strength,--what do you give them? Sensuality or spirit?" Her husband was a stranger; she had given him nothing but one child.

Isabelle opened her trunks and began to pack. There was a train south from White River at eight-thirty, which connected with the New York express. Molly could follow later with the governess.... She flung the things loosely into the trunks, her mind filled with but one idea. She must get to St. Louis as soon as possible. 'John--my husband--is being tried out there for dishonest conduct in his business, and we are so far apart that he doesn't even mention it in his letters!'

At last, the packing over, she crouched by the embers and tried to warm her numb hands. This burst of decided will which had made her swiftly prepare for the journey gave out for the moment.... What should she do out there, after all? She would merely be in the way and annoy John. And with a strength that startled her came the answer, 'After all, we are man and wife; he is my husband, and he is in trouble!'

It would not be possible to see Renault before she left. Well, he had spoken his message to her, having chosen his own time. And already his prophecy was coming about. The thing to do was plain. The Vision was there, and the voice had spoken out of the depths. She was extraordinarily calm, as if raised above doubt, the confusing calls of personal consideration. There might be disgrace to come for her husband. There was the undoubted miserable failure of her marriage,--the strong possibility of her husband's impassive coldness at her futile flight to his side, at this hour. But there was no Fear! ... And serenely she dropped into sleep.

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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