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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Two - Chapter 19
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Together - Part Two - Chapter 19 Post by :hlpunltd Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :2994

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Together - Part Two - Chapter 19

PART TWO CHAPTER XIX

The Virginia mountains made a narrow horizon of brilliant blue. On their lower slopes the misty outlines of early spring had begun with the budding trees. Here and there the feathery forest was spotted by dashes of pink coolness where the wild peach and plum had blossomed, and the faint blue of the rhododendron bushes mounted to the sky-line. The morning was brilliant after a rain and the fresh mountain air blew invigoratingly, as Isabelle left the car on her husband's arm. With the quick change of mood of the nervous invalid she already felt stronger, more hopeful. There was color in her thin face, and her eyes had again the vivacious sparkle that had been so largely her charm.

"We must find some good horses," she said to her father as they approached the hotel cottage which had been engaged; "I want to get up in those hills. Margaret promised to come for a week.... Oh, I am going to be all right now!"

The hotel was one of those huge structures dropped down in the mountains or by the sea to provide for the taste for fresh air, the need for recuperation, of a wealthy society that crams its pleasures and its business into small periods,--days and hours. It rambled over an acre or two and provided as nearly as possible the same luxuries and occupations that its frequenters had at home. At this season it was crowded with rich people, who had sought the balm of early spring in the Virginia mountains after their weeks of frantic activity in the cities, instead of taking the steamers to Europe. They were sitting, beautifully wrapped in furs, on the long verandas, or smartly costumed were setting out for the links or for horseback excursions. The Colonel and Lane quickly discovered acquaintances in the broker's office where prominent "operators" were sitting, smoking cigars and looking at the country through large plate-glass windows, while the ticker chattered within hearing. There was music in the hall, and fresh arrivals with spotless luggage poured in from the trains. This mountain inn was a little piece of New York moved out into the country.

But it was peaceful on the piazza of the cottage, which was somewhat removed from the great caravansary, where Isabelle lay and watched the blue recesses of the receding hills. Here her husband found her when it was time to say good-by.

"You'll be very well off," he remarked, laying his hand affectionately on his wife's arm. "The Stantons are here--you remember him at Torso?--and the Blakes from St. Louis, and no doubt a lot more people your father knows,--so you won't be lonely. I have arranged about the horses and selected a quiet table for you."

"That is very good of you,--I don't want to see people," she replied, her eyes still on the hills. "When will you be back?"

"In a week or ten days I can run up again and stay for a couple of days, over Sunday."

"You'll telegraph about Marian?"

"Of course."

And bending over to kiss her forehead, he hurried away. It seemed to her that he was always leaving, always going somewhere. When he was away, he wrote or telegraphed her each day as a matter of course, and sent her flowers every other day, and brought her some piece of jewellery when he went to New York. Yes, he was very fond of her, she felt, and his was a loyal nature,--she never need fear that in these many absences from his wife he might become entangled with women, as other men did. He was not that kind....

The Colonel crossed the lawn in the direction of the golf links with a party of young old men. It was fortunate that the Colonel had become interested, almost boyishly, in golf; for since that morning when his son had left him he had lost all zest for business. A year ago he would never have thought it possible to come away like this for a month in the busy season. To Isabelle it was sad and also curious the way he took this matter of Vickers. He seemed to feel that he had but one child now, had put his boy quite out of his mind. He was gradually arranging his affairs--already there was talk of incorporating the hardware business and taking in new blood. And he had aged still more. But he was so tremendously vital,--the Colonel! No one could say he was heart-broken. He took more interest than ever in public affairs, like the General Hospital, and the Park Board. But he was different, as Isabelle felt,--abstracted, more silent, apparently revising his philosophy of life at an advanced age, and that is always painful. If she had only given him a man child, something male and vital like himself! He was fond of John, but no one could take the place of his own blood. That, too, was a curious limitation in the eyes of the younger generation.

"Isabelle!"

She was wakened from her brooding by a soft Southern voice, and perceived Margaret Pole coming up the steps. With the grasp of Margaret's small hands, the kiss, all the years since St. Mary's seemed to fall away. The two women drew off and looked at each other, Margaret smiling enigmatically, understanding that Isabelle was trying to read the record of the years, the experience of marriage on her. Coloring slightly, she turned away and drew up a chair.

"Is your husband with you?" Isabelle asked. "I do so want to meet him."

"No; I left him at my father's with the children. He's very good with the children," she added with a mocking smile, "and he doesn't like little trips. He doesn't understand how I can get up at five in the morning and travel all day across country to see an old friend.... Men don't understand things, do you think?"

"So you are going abroad to live?"

"Yes," Margaret answered without enthusiasm. "We are going to study music,--the voice. My husband doesn't like business!"

Isabelle had heard that Mr. Pole, agreeable as he was, had not been successful in business. But the Poles and the Lawtons were all comfortably off, and it was natural that he should follow his tastes.

"He has a very good voice," Margaret added.

"How exciting--to change your whole life like that!" Isabelle exclaimed, fired by the prospect of escape from routine, from the known.

"Think so?" Margaret remarked in a dull voice. "Well, perhaps. Tell me how you are--everything."

And they began to talk, and yet carefully avoided what was uppermost in the minds of both,--'How has it been with you? How has marriage been? Has it given you all that you looked for? Are you happy?' For in spite of all the education, the freedom so much talked about for women, that remains the central theme of their existence,--the emotional and material satisfaction of their natures through marriage. Margaret Pole was accounted intellectual among women, with bookish tastes, thoughtful, and she knew many women who had been educated in colleges. "They are all like us," she once said to Isabelle; "just like us. They want to marry a man who will give them everything, and they aren't any wiser in their choice, either. The only difference is that a smaller number of them have the chance to marry, and when they can't be married, they have something besides cats and maiden aunts to fall back upon. But interests in common with their husbands, intellectual interests,--rubbish! A man who amounts to anything is always a specialist, and he doesn't care for feminine amateurishness. An acquaintance with Dante and the housing of the poor doesn't broaden the breakfast table, not a little bit."

When Margaret Pole talked in this strain, men thought her intelligent and women cynical. Isabelle felt that this cynicism had grown upon her. It appeared in little things, as when she said: "I can stay only a week. I must see to breaking up the house and a lot of business. We shall never sail if I don't go back and get at it. Men are supposed to be practical and attend to the details, but they don't if they can get out of them." When Isabelle complimented her on her pretty figure, Margaret said with a mocking grimace: "Yes, the figure is there yet. The face goes first usually." Isabelle had to admit that Margaret's delicate, girlish face had grown strangely old and grave. The smile about the thin lips was there, but it was a mocking or a wistful smile. The blue eyes were deeper underneath the high brow. Life was writing its record on this fine face,--a record not easily read, however. They fell to talking over the St. Mary's girls.

"Aline,--have you seen much of her?" Margaret asked.

"Not as much as I hoped to,--I have been so useless," Isabelle replied. "She's grown queer!"

"Queer?"

"She is rather dowdy, and they live in such a funny way,--always in a mess. Of course they haven't much money, but they needn't be so--squalid,--the children and the mussy house and all."

"Aline doesn't care for things," Margaret observed.

"But one must care enough to be clean! And she has gone in for fads,--she has taken to spinning and weaving and designing jewellery and I don't know what."

"That is her escape," Margaret explained.

"Escape? It must be horrid for her husband and awful for the children."

"What would you have her do? Scrub and wash and mend and keep a tidy house? That would take all the poetry out of Aline, destroy her personality. Isn't it better for her husband and for the children that she should keep herself alive and give them something better than a good housewife?"

"Keep herself alive by making weird cloths and impossible bracelets?"

Margaret laughed at Isabelle's philistine horror of the Goring household, and amused herself with suggesting more of the philosophy of the Intellectuals, the creed of Woman's Independence. She pointed out that Aline did not interfere with Goring's pursuit of his profession though it might not interest her or benefit her. Why should Goring interfere with Aline's endeavors to develop herself, to be something more than a mother and a nurse?

"She has kept something of her own soul,--that is it!"

"Her own soul!" mocked Isabelle. "If you were to take a meal with them, you would wish there was less soul, and more clean table napkins."

"My dear little _bourgeoise_," Margaret commented with amusement, "you must get a larger point of view. The housewife ideal is doomed. Women won't submit to it,--intelligent ones. And Goring probably likes Aline better as she is than he would any competent wife of the old sort."

"I don't believe any sane man likes to see his children dirty, and never know where to find a clean towel,--don't tell me!"

"Then men must change their characters," Margaret replied vaguely; "we women have been changing our characters for centuries to conform to men's desires. It's time that the men adjusted themselves to us."

"I wonder what John would say if I told him he must change his character," mused Isabelle.

"There is Cornelia Woodyard," Margaret continued; "she combines the two ideals--but she is very clever."

"We never thought so at St. Mary's."

"That's because we judged her by woman's standards, sentimental ones,--old-fashioned ones. But she is New."

"How new?" asked Isabelle, who felt that she had been dwelling in a dark place the past three years.

"Why, she made up her mind just what she wanted out of life,--a certain kind of husband, a certain kind of married life, a certain set of associates,--and she's got just what she planned. She isn't an opportunist like most of us, who take the husbands we marry because they are there, we don't know why, and take the children they give us because they come, and live and do what turns up in the circumstances chosen for us by the Male. No, Conny is very clever!"

"But how?"

"Eugene Woodyard is not a rich man,--Conny was not after money,--but he is a clever lawyer, well connected,--in with a lot of interesting people, and has possibilities. Conny saw those and has developed them,--that has been her success. You see she combines the old and the new. She makes the mould of their life, but she works through him. As a result she has just what she wants, and her husband adores her,--he is the outward and visible symbol of Conny's inward and material strength!"

Isabelle laughed, and Margaret continued in her pleasant drawl, painting the Woodyard firmament.

"She understood her man better than he did himself. She knew that he would never be a great money-getter, hadn't the mental or the physical qualifications for it. So she turns him deftly into a reformer, a kind of gentlemanly politician. She'll make him Congressman or better,--much better! Meantime she has given him a delightful home, one of the nicest I know,--on a street down town near a little park, where the herd does not know enough to live. And there Conny receives the best picked set of people I ever see. It is all quite wonderful!"

"And we thought her coarse," mused Isabelle.

"Perhaps she is,--I don't think she is fine. But a strong hand is rarely fine. I don't think she would hesitate to use any means to arrive,--and that is Power, my dear little girl!"

Margaret Pole rose, the enigmatic smile on her lips.

"I must leave you now to your nap and the peace of the hills," she said lightly. "We'll meet at luncheon. By the way, I ran across a cousin of mine coming in on the train,--a Virginian cousin, which means that he is close enough to ask favors when he wants them. He wishes to meet you,--he is a great favorite of the Woodyards, of Conny, I should say,--Tom Cairy.... He was at college with your brother, I think. I will bring him over in the afternoon if you say so. He's amusing, Thomas; but I don't vouch for him. Good-by, girl."

Isabelle watched Margaret Pole cross the light green of the lawn, walking leisurely, her head raised towards the mountains. 'She is not happy,' thought Isabelle. 'There is something wrong in her marriage. I wonder if it is always so!' Margaret had given her so much to think about, with her sharp suggestions of strange, new views, that she felt extraordinarily refreshed. And Margaret, her eyes on the blue hills, was thinking, 'She is still the girl,--she doesn't know herself yet, does not know life!' Her lips smiled wistfully, as though to add: 'But she is eager. She will have to learn, as we all do.' Thus the two young women, carefully avoiding any reference to the thought nearest their hearts, discovered in a brief half hour what each wanted to know....

After the noisy luncheon, with its interminable variety of food, in the crowded, hot dining room, Isabelle and Margaret with Cairy sought refuge in one of the foot-paths that led up into the hills. Cairy dragged his left leg with a perceptible limp. He was slight, blond hair with auburn tinge, smooth shaven, with appealing eyes that, like Margaret's, were recessed beneath delicate brows. He had pleased Isabelle by talking to her about Vickers, whom he had known slightly at the university, talking warmly and naturally, as if nothing had happened to Vickers. Now he devoted himself to her quite personally, while Margaret walked on ahead. Cairy had a way of seeing but one woman at a time, no matter what the circumstances might be, because his emotional horizon was always limited. That was one reason why he was liked so much by women. He had a good deal to say about the Woodyards, especially Conny.

"She is so sure in her judgments," he said. "I always show her everything I write!" (He had already explained that he was a literary "jobber," as he called it, at the Springs to see a well-known Wall Street man for an article on "the other side" that he was preparing for _The People's Magazine_, and also hinted that his ambitions rose above his magazine efforts.)

"But I did not know that Conny was literary," Isabelle remarked in surprise.

The young Southerner smiled at her simplicity.

"I don't know that she is what _you mean by literary; perhaps that is the reason she is such a good judge. She knows what people want to read, at least what the editors think they want and will pay for. If Con--Mrs. Woodyard likes a thing, I know I shall get a check for it. If she throws it down, I might as well save postage stamps."

"A valuable friend," Margaret called back lightly, "for a struggling man of letters!"

"Rather," Cairy agreed. "You see," turning to Isabelle again, "that sort of judgment is worth reams of literary criticism."

"It's practical."

"Yes, that is just what she is,--the genius of the practical; it's an instinct with her. That is why she can give really elaborate dinners in her little house, and you have the feeling that there are at least a dozen servants where they ought to be, and all that."

From the Woodyards they digressed to New York and insensibly to Cairy's life there. Before they had turned back for tea Isabelle knew that the lame young Southerner had written a play which he hoped to induce some actress to take, and that meantime he was supporting himself in the various ways that modern genius has found as a substitute for Grub Street. He had also told her that New York was the only place one could live in, if one was interested in the arts, and that in his opinion the drama was the coming art of America,--"real American drama with blood in it"; and had said something about the necessity of a knowledge of life, "a broad understanding of the national forces," if a man were to write anything worth while.

"You mean dinner-parties?" Margaret asked at this point....

When he left the women, he had arranged to ride with Isabelle.

"It's the only sport I can indulge in," he said, referring to his physical infirmity, "and I don't get much of it in New York."

As he limped away across the lawn, Margaret asked mischievously:--

"Well, what do you think of Cousin Thomas? He lets you know a good deal about himself all at once."

"He is so interesting--and appealing, don't you think so, with those eyes? Isn't it a pity he is lame?"

"I don't know about that. He's used that lameness of his very effectively. It's procured him no end of sympathy, and sympathy is what Thomas likes,--from women. He will tell you all about it some time,--how his negro nurse was frightened by a snake and dropped him on a stone step when he was a baby."

"We don't have men like him in St. Louis," Isabelle reflected aloud; "men who write or do things that are really interesting--it is all business or gossip. I should like to see Conny,--it must be exciting to live in New York, and be somebody!"

"Come and try it; you will, I suppose?"

In spite of Margaret's gibes at her distant cousin, Isabelle enjoyed Cairy. He was the kind of man she had rarely seen and never known: by birth a gentleman, by education and ambition a writer, with a distinct social sense and the charm of an artist. In spite of his poverty he had found the means to run about the world--the habited part of it--a good deal, and had always managed to meet the right people,--the ones "whose names mean something." He was of the parasite species, but of the higher types. To Isabelle his rapid talk, about plays, people, pictures, the opera, books, was a revelation of some of that flowing, stream of life which she felt she was missing. And he gave her the pleasant illusion of "being worth while." The way he would look at her as he rolled a cigarette on the veranda steps, awaiting her least word, flattered her woman's sympathy. When he left for Washington, going, as he said, "where the _People's call me," she missed him distinctly.

"I hope I shall meet him again!"

"You will," Margaret replied. "Thomas is the kind one meets pretty often if you are his sort. And I take it you are!"

Isabelle believed that Margaret Pole was jealous of her young cousin or piqued because of a sentimental encounter in their youth. Cairy had hinted at something of this kind. Margaret patted Isabella's pretty head.

"My little girl," she mocked, "how wonderful the world is, and all the creatures in it!"

* * * * *

From this month's visit at the Springs the Colonel got some good golf, Mrs. Price a vivid sense of the way people threw their money about these days ("They say that Wall Street broker gave the head waiter a hundred dollar bill when he left!"). And Isabelle had absorbed a miscellaneous assortment of ideas, the dominant one being that intelligent Americans who really wished to have interesting lives went East to live, particularly to New York. And incidentally there was inserted in the nether layers of her consciousness the belief that the world was changing its ideas about women and marriage, "and all that." She desired eagerly to be in the current of these new ideas.

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