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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Three - Chapter 29
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Together - Part Three - Chapter 29 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :2951

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Together - Part Three - Chapter 29

PART THREE CHAPTER XXIX

When Mrs. Woodyard returned to her house at nine o'clock in the evening and found it dark, no lights in the drawing-room or the library, no fire lighted in either room, she pushed the button disgustedly and flung her cloak into a chair.

"Why is the house like a tomb?" she demanded sharply of the servant, who appeared tardily.

"Mrs. Woodyard was not expected until later."

"That should make no difference," she observed curtly, and the flustered servant hastened to pull curtains, light lamps, and build up the fire.

Conny disliked entering a gloomy house. Moreover, she disliked explaining things to servants. Her attitude was that of the grand marshal of life, who once having expressed an idea or wish expects that it will be properly fulfilled. This attitude worked perfectly with Percy and the children, and usually with servants. No one "got more results" in her establishment with less worry and thought than Mrs. Woodyard. The resolutely expectant attitude is a large part of efficiency.

After the servant had gathered up her wrap and gloves, Conny looked over the room, gave another curve to the dark curtains, and ordered whiskey and cigarettes. It was plain that she was expecting some one. She had gone to the Hillyers' to dinner as she had promised Percy, and just as the party was about to leave for the opera had pleaded a headache and returned home. It was true that she was not well; the winter had taxed her strength, and she lived quite up to the margin of her vitality. That was her plan, also. Moreover, the day had contained rather more than its share of problems....

When Cairy's light step pressed the stair, she turned quickly from the fire.

"Ah, Tommy,--so you got my message?" She greeted him with a slow smile. "Where were you dining?"

"With the Lanes. Mrs. Lane and I saw _The Doll's House this afternoon." As Conny did not look pleased, he added, "It is amusing to show Ibsen to a child."

"Isabelle Lane is no child."

"She takes Shaw and Ibsen with that childlike earnestness which has given those two great fakirs a posthumous vogue," Cairy remarked with a yawn. "If it were not for America,--for the Mississippi Valley of America, one might say,--Ibsen would have had a quiet grave, and Shaw might remain the Celtic buffoon. But the women of the Mississippi Valley have made a gospel out of them.... It is as interesting to hear them discuss the new dogmas on marriage as it is to see a child eat candy."

"You seem to find it so--with Isabelle."

"She is very intelligent--she will get over the Shaw-measles quickly."

"You think so?" Conny queried. "Well, with all that money she might do something, if she had it in her.... But she is middle class, in ideas,--always was."

That afternoon Isabelle had confided her schoolgirl opinion of Mrs. Woodyard to Cairy. The young man balancing the two judgments smiled.

"She is good to behold," he observed, helping himself to whiskey.

"Not your kind, Tommy!" Conny warned with a laugh. "The Prices are very _good people. You'll find that Isabelle will keep you at the proper distance."

Cairy yawned as if the topic did not touch him. "I thought you were going to _Manon with the Hillyers."

"I was,--but I came home instead!" Conny replied softly, and their eyes met.

"That was kind of you," he murmured, and they were silent a long time.

It had come over her suddenly in the afternoon that she must see Cairy, must drink again the peculiar and potent draught which he alone of men seemed to be able to offer her. So she had written the note and made the excuse. She would not have given up the Hillyers altogether. They were important to Percy just now, and she expected to see the Senator there and accomplish something with him. It was clearly her duty, her plan of life as she saw it, for her to go to the Hillyers'. But having put in an appearance, flattered the old lawyer, and had her little talk with Senator Thomas before dinner, she felt that she had earned her right to a few hours of sentimental indulgence....

Conny, sitting there before the fire, looking her most seductive best, had the clear conscience of a child. Her life, she thought, was arduous, and she met its demands admirably, she also thought. The subtleties of feeling and perception never troubled her. She felt entitled to her sentimental repose with Cairy as she felt entitled to her well-ordered house. She did not see that her "affair" interfered with her duties, or with Percy, or with the children. If it should,--then it would be time to consider....

"Tommy," she murmured plaintively, "I am so tired! You are the only person who rests me."

She meant it quite literally, that he always rested and soothed her, and that she was grateful to him for it. But the Southerner's pulses leaped at the purring words. To him they meant more, oh, much more! He gave her strength; his love was the one vital thing she had missed in life. The sentimentalist must believe that; must believe that he is giving, and that some generous issue justifies his passion. Cairy leaning forward caressingly said:--

"You make me feel your love to-night! ... Wonderful one! ... It is all ours to-night, in this still room."

She did not always make him feel that she loved him, far from it. And it hurt his sentimental soul, and injured his vanity. He would be capable of a great folly with sufficient delusion, but he was not capable of loving intensely a woman who did not love him. To-night they seemed in harmony, and as their lips met at last, the man had the desired illusion--she was his!

They are not coarsely physiological,--these Cairys, the born lovers. They look abhorrently on mere flesh. With them it must always be the spirit that leads to the flesh, and that is their peculiar danger. Society can always take care of the simply licentious males; women know them and for the most part hate them. But the poet lovers--the men of "temperament"--are fatal to its prosaic peace. These must "love" before they can desire, must gratify that emotional longing first, pour themselves out, and have the ecstasy before the union. That is their fatal nature. The state of love is their opiate, and each time they dream, it is the only dream. Each woman who can give them the dream is the only woman,--she calls to them with a single voice. And they divine afar off those women whose voices will call....

What would come after? ... The woman looked up at the man with a peculiar light in her eyes, a gentleness which never appeared except for him, and held him from her, dreaming intangible things.... She, too, could dream with him,--that was the wonder of it all to her! This was the force that had taken her out of her ordinary self. She slipped into nothing--never drifted--looked blind fate between the eyes. But now she dreamed! ... And as the man spoke to her, covered her with his warm terms of endearment, she listened--and forgot her little world.

Even the most selfish woman has something of the large mother, the giving quality, when a man's arms hold her. She reads the man's need and would supply it. She would comfort the inner sore, supply the lack. And for this moment, Conny was not selfish: she was thinking of her lover's needs, and how she could meet them.

Thus the hour sped.

"You love--you love!" the man said again and again,--to convince himself.

Conny smiled disdainfully, as at the childish iteration of a child, but said nothing. Finally with a long sigh, coming back from her dream, she rose and stood thoughtfully before the fire, looking down at Cairy reflectively. He had the bewildered feeling of not understanding what was in her mind.

"I will dine with you to-morrow," she remarked at last.

Cairy laughed ironically. It was the perfect anti-climax,--after all this unfathomable silence, after resting in his arms,--"I will dine with you to-morrow!"

But Conny never wasted words,--the commonest had a meaning. While he was searching for the meaning under this commonplace, there was the noise of some one entering the hall below. Conny frowned. Another interruption in her ordered household! Some servant was coming in at the front door. Or a burglar?

If it were a burglar, it was a very well assured one that closed the door carefully, took time to lay down hat and coat, and then with well-bred quiet ascended the stairs.

"It must be Percy," Conny observed, with a puzzled frown. "Something must have happened to bring him back to-night."

Woodyard, seeing a light in the library, looked in, the traveller's weary smile on his face.

"Hello, Percy!" Conny drawled. "What brings you back at this time?"

Woodyard came into the room draggingly, nodded to Cairy, and drew a chair up to the fire. His manner showed no surprise at the situation.

"Some things came up at Albany," he replied vaguely. "I shall have to go back to-morrow."

"What is it?" his wife demanded quickly.

"Will you give me a cigarette, Tom?" he asked equably, indicating that he preferred not to mention his business, whatever it might be. Cairy handed him his cigarette case.

"These are so much better than the brand Con supplies me with," he observed lightly.

He examined the cigarette closely, then lit it, and remarked:--

"The train was beastly hot. You seem very comfortable here."

Cairy threw away his cigarette and said good-by.

"Tom," Conny called from the door, as he descended, "don't forget the dinner." She turned to Percy,--"Tom is taking me to dinner to-morrow."

There was silence between husband and wife until the door below clicked, and then Conny murmured interrogatively, "Well?"

"I came back," Percy remarked calmly, "because I made up my mind that there is something rotten on in that Commission."

Conny, after her talk with the Senator, knew rather more about the Commission than her husband; but she merely asked, "What do you mean?"

"I mean that I want to find just who is interested in this up-state water-power grant before I go any farther. That is why I came down,--to see one or two men, especially Princhard."

While Cornelia was thinking of certain remarks that the Senator had made, Percy added, "I am not the Senator's hired man."

"Of course not!"

Her husband's next remark was startling,--"I have almost made up my mind to get out, Con,--to take Jackson's offer of a partnership and stick to the law."

Here, Conny recognized, was a crisis, and like most crises it came unexpectedly. Conny rose to meet it. Husband and wife discussed the situation, personal and political, of Percy's fortunes for a long time, and it was not settled when it was time for bed.

"Con," her husband said, still sitting before the fire as she turned out the lights and selected a book for night reading, "aren't you going pretty far with Tom?"

Conny paused and looked at him questioningly.

"Yes," she admitted in an even voice. "I have gone pretty far.... I wanted to tell you about it. But this political business has worried you so much lately that I didn't like to add anything."

As Percy made no reply, she said tentatively:--

"I may go farther, Percy.... Tom loves me--very much!"

"It means that--you care for him--the same way?"

"He's given me something," Conny replied evasively, "something I never felt--just that way--before."

"Yes, Tom is of an emotional nature," Woodyard remarked dryly.

"You don't like Tom. Men wouldn't, I can understand. He isn't like most men.... But women like him!"

Then for a while they waited, until he spoke, a little wearily, dispassionately.

"You know, Con, I always want you to have everything that is best for you--that you feel you need to complete your life. We have been the best sort of partners, trying not to limit each other in any way.... I know I have never been enough for you, given you all that you ought to have, in some ways. I am not emotional, as Tom is! And you have done everything for me. I shall never forget that. So if another can do something for you, make your life happier, fuller,--you must do it, take it. I should be a beastly pig to interfere!"

He spoke evenly, and at the end he smiled rather wanly.

"I know you mean it, Percy,--every word. But I shouldn't want you to be unhappy," replied Conny, in a subdued voice.

"You need not think of me--if you feel sure that this is best for you."

"You know that I could not do anything that might hurt our life,--_that is the most important!"

Her husband nodded.

"The trouble is that I want both!" she analyzed gravely; "both in different ways."

A slight smile crept under her husband's mustache, but he made no comment.

"I shall always be honest with you, Percy, and if at any time it becomes--"

"You needn't explain," Percy interrupted hurriedly. "I don't ask! I don't want to know what is peculiarly your own affair, as this.... As I said, you must live your life as you choose, not hampered by me. We have always believed that was the best way, and meant it, too, haven't we?"

"But you have never wanted your own life," Conny remarked reflectively.

"No, not that way!" The look on Percy's face made Conny frown. She was afraid that he was keeping something back.

"I suppose it is different with a man."

"No, not always," and the smile reappeared under the mustache, a painful smile. "But you see in my case I never wanted--more."

"Oh!" murmured Conny, more troubled than ever.

"You won't do it lightly, whatever you do, I know! ... And I'll manage--I shall be away a good deal this winter."

There was another long silence, and when Conny sighed and prepared to leave the room, Percy spoke:--

"There's one thing, Conny.... This mustn't affect the children."

"Oh, Percy!" she protested. "Of course not."

"You must be careful that it won't--in any way, you understand. That would be very--wrong."

"Of course," Conny admitted in the same slightly injured tone, as if he were undervaluing her character. "Whatever I do," she added, "I shall not sacrifice you or the children, naturally."

"We needn't talk more about it, then, need we?"

Conny slowly crossed the room to her husband, and putting one hand on his shoulder she leaned down and pushed up the hair from his forehead, murmuring:--

"You know I love you, Percy!"

"I know it, dear," he answered, caressing her face with his fingers. "If I don't happen to be enough for you, it is my fault--not yours."

"It isn't that!" she protested. But she could not explain what else it was that drew her to Cairy so strongly. "It mustn't make any difference between us. It won't, will it?"

Percy hesitated a moment, still caressing the lovely face.

"I don't think so, Con.... But you can't tell that now--do you think?"

"It mustn't!" she said decisively, as if the matter was wholly in her own hands. And leaning still closer towards him, she whispered: "You are wonderful to me. A man who can take things as you do is really--big!" She meant him to understand that she admired him more than ever, that in respect to character she recognized that he was larger and finer than the other man.

Percy kissed the cheek so close to his lips. Conny shrank back perceptibly. Some elemental instinct of the female pushed its way through her broad-minded modern philosophy and made her shudder at the double embrace. She controlled herself at once and again bowed her beautiful head to his. But Percy did not offer to kiss her.

"There are other things in life than passion," she remarked slowly.

Percy looking directly into her eyes observed dryly: "Oh, many more.... But passion plays the deuce with the rest sometimes!"

And he held open the door for his wife to leave the room.

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