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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Three - Chapter 25
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Together - Part Three - Chapter 25 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :618

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Together - Part Three - Chapter 25

PART THREE CHAPTER XXV

Fosdick had called Cornelia Woodyard the "Vampire,"--why, none of her admirers could say. She did not look the part this afternoon, standing before the fire in her library, negligently holding a cup of tea in one hand, while she nibbled gourmandizingly at a frosted cake. She had come in from an expedition with Cairy, and had not removed her hat and gloves, merely letting her furs slip off to the floor. While she had her tea, Cairy was looking through the diamond panes of a bank of windows at a strip of small park, which was dripping in the fog of a dubious December day. Conny, having finished her tea, examined lazily some notes, pushed them back into their envelopes with a disgusted curl of her long lips, and glancing over her shoulder at Cairy drawled in an exhausted voice:--

"Poke the fire, please, Tommy!"

Cairy did as he was told, then lighted a cigarette and stood expectantly. Conny seemed lost in a maze of dreary thoughts, and the man looked about the room for amusement. It was a pleasant little room, with sufficient color of flowers and personal disorderliness of letters and books and papers to soften the severity of the Empire furniture. Evidently the architect who had done over this small down-town house had been supplemented by the strong hand of its mistress. Outside and inside he had done his best to create something French out of the old-fashioned New York block house, but Cornelia Woodyard had Americanized his creation enough to make it intimate, livable.

"Can't you say something, Tommy?" Conny murmured in her childish treble.

"I have said a good deal first and last, haven't I?"

"Don't be cross, Tommy! I am down on my job to-day."

"Suppose you quit it! Shall we go to the Bahamas? Or Paris? Or Rio?"

"Do you think that you could manage the excursion, Tommy?" Although she smiled good-naturedly, the remark seemed to cut. The young man slumped into a chair and leaned his head on his hands.

"Besides, where would Percy come in?"

Cairy asked half humorously, "And where, may I ask, do I come in?"

"Oh, Tommy, don't look like that!" Conny complained. "You _do come in, you know!"

Cairy brought his chair and placed himself near the fire; then leaned forward, looking intently into the woman's eyes.

"I think sometimes the women must be right about you, you know."

"What do they say?"

... "That you are a calculating machine,--one of those things they have in banks to do arithmetic stunts!"

"No, you don't, ... silly! Tell me what Gossom said about the place."

"He didn't say much about that; he talked about G. Lafayette Gossom and _The People's Magazine chiefly.... The mess of pottage is three hundred a month. I am to be understudy to the great fount of ideas. When he has an inspiration he will push a bell, and I am to run and catch it as it flows red hot from his lips and put it into shape,--if I can."

Cairy nursed his injured leg with a disgusted air.

"Don't sniff, Tommy,--there are lots of men who would like to be in your shoes."

"I know.... Oh, I am not ungrateful for my daily bread. I kiss the hand that found it,--the hand of power!"

"Silly! Don't be literary with me. Perhaps I put the idea into old Noddy Gossom's head when he was here the other night. You'll have to humor him, listen to his pomposity. But he has made a success of that _People's Magazine_. It is an influence, and it pays!"

"Four hundred thousand a year, chiefly automobile and corset ads, I should say."

"Nearly half a million a year!" Conny cried with the air of 'See what I have done for you!'

"Yes!" the Southerner remarked with scornful emphasis ... "I shall harness myself once more to the car of triumphant prosperity, and stretch forth my hungry hands to catch the grains that dribble in the rear. Compromise! Compromise! All is Compromise!"

"Now you are literary again," Conny pronounced severely. "Your play wasn't a success,--there was no compromise about that! The managers don't want your new play. Gossom does want your little articles. You have to live, and you take the best you can get,--pretty good, too."

"Madam Materialist!"

Conny made a little face, and continued in the same lecturing tone.

"Had you rather go back to that cross-roads in the Virginia mountains--something Court-house--or go to London and write slop home to the papers, as Ted Stevens does?"

"You know why I don't go back to the something Courthouse and live on corn-bread and bacon!" Cairy sat down once more very near the blond woman and leaned forward slowly. Conny's mouth relaxed, and her eyes softened.

"You are dear," she said with a little laugh; "but you are silly about things." As the young man leaned still farther forward, his hand touching her arm, Conny's large brown eyes opened speculatively on him....

The other night he had kissed her for the first time, that is, really kissed her in unequivocal fashion, and she had been debating since whether she should mention the matter to Percy. The right moment for such a confidence had not yet come. She must tell him some day. She prided herself that her relation with her husband had always been honest and frank, and this seemed the kind of thing he ought to know about, if she were going to keep that relation what it had been. She had had tender intimacies--"emotional friendships," her phrase was--before this affair with Cairy. They had always been perfectly open: she had lunched and dined them, so to speak, in public as well as at the domestic table. Percy had rather liked her special friends, had been nice to them always.

But looking into the Southerner's eyes, she felt that there was something different in this case; it had troubled her from the time he kissed her, it troubled her now--what she could read in his eyes. He would not be content with that "emotional friendship" she had given the others. Perhaps, and this was the strangest thrill in her consciousness, she might not be content to have him satisfied so easily.... Little Wrexton Grant had sent her flowers and written notes--and kissed her strong fingers, once. Bertie Sollowell had dedicated one of his books to her (the author's copy was somewhere in Percy's study), and hinted that his life missed the guiding hand that she could have afforded him. He had since found a guiding hand that seemed satisfactory. Dear old Royal Salters had squired her, bought her silver in Europe, and Jevons had painted her portrait the year he opened his studio in New York, and kissed a very beautiful white shoulder,--purely by way of compliment to the shoulder. All these marks of gallantry had been duly reported to Percy, and laughed at together by husband and wife in that morning hour when Conny had her coffee in bed. Nevertheless, they had touched her vanity, as evidences that she was still attractive as a woman. No woman--few women at any rate--of thirty-one resents the fact that some man other than her husband can feel tenderly towards her. And "these friends"--the special ones--had all been respecters of the law; not one would have thought of coveting his neighbor's wife, any more than of looting his safe.

But with Tom Cairy it was different. Not merely because he was Southern and hence presumably ardent in temperament, nor because of his reputation for being "successful" with women; not wholly because he appealed to her on account of his physical disability,--that unfortunate slip by the negro nurse. But because there was in this man the strain of feminine understanding, of vibrating sentiment--the lyric chord of temperament--which made him lover first and last! That is why he had stirred most women he had known well,--women in whom the emotional life had been dormant, or unappeased, or petrified.

"You are such a dear!" Conny murmured, looking at him with her full soft eyes, realizing in her own way that in this fragile body there was the soul of the lover,--born to love, to burn in some fashion before some altar, always.

The special aroma that Cairy brought to his love-making was this sense that for the time it was all there was in life, that it shut out past and future. The special woman enveloped by his sentiment did not hear the steps of other women echoing through outer rooms. She was, for the moment, first and last. He was able to create this emotional delusion genuinely; for into each new love he poured himself, like a fiery liquor, that swept the heart clean.

"Dearest," he had murmured that night to Conny, "you are wonderful,--woman and man,--the soul of a woman, the mind of a man! To love you is to love life."

And Conny, in whose ears the style of lover's sighs was immaterial, was stirred with an unaccountable feeling. When Cairy put his hand on hers, and his lips quivered beneath his mustache, her face inevitably softened and her eyes widened like a child's eyes. For Conny, even Conny, with her robust intelligence and strong will to grasp that out of life which seemed good to her, wanted to love--in a way she had never loved before. Like many women she had passed thirty with a husband of her choice, two children, and an establishment entirely of her making before she became aware that she had missed something on the way,--a something that other women had. She had seen Severine Wilson go white when a certain man entered the room--then light brilliantly with joy when his eyes sought her.... That must be worth having, too! ...

Her relations with her husband were perfect,--she had said so for years and every one said the same thing about the Woodyards. They were very intimate friends, close comrades. She knew that Percy respected and admired her more than any woman in the world, and paid her the last flattery of conceding to her will, respecting her intelligence. But there was something that he had not done, could not do, and that was a something that Cairy seemed able to do,--give her a sensation partly physical, wholly emotional, like the effect of stimulant, touching every nerve. Conny, with her sure grasp of herself, however, had no mind to submit blindly to this intoxication; she would examine it, like other matters,--was testing it now in her capacious intelligence, as the man bent his eyes upon her, so close to her lips.

Had she only been the "other sort," the conventional ordinary sort, she would have either gulped her sensation blindly,--"let herself go,"--or trembled with horror and run away as from some evil thing. Being as she was, modern, intellectual, proudly questioning all maxims, she kept this new phenomenon in her hand, saying, "What does it mean for _me_?" The note of the Intellectuals!

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