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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Two - Chapter 23
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Together - Part Two - Chapter 23 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :2943

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Together - Part Two - Chapter 23

PART TWO CHAPTER XXIII

Isabelle did not see much of the Falkners as time went on. Little lines of social divergence began to separate them more and more widely. "After all, one sees chiefly the people who do the same things one does," Isabelle explained to herself. Bessie thought Isabelle "uncertain," perhaps snobbish, and felt hurt; though she remarked to Rob merely, "The Lanes are very successful, of course."

Affairs in the Buena Vista Pleasance house had progressed meantime. There were, naturally, so many meals to be got and eaten, so many little illnesses of the children, and other roughnesses of the road of life. There was also Bessie's developing social talent, and above all there was the infinitely complex action and reaction of the man and the wife upon each other. Seen as an all-seeing eye might observe, with all the emotional shading, the perspective of each act, the most commonplace household created by man and woman would be a wonderful cosmography. But the novelist, even he who has the courage to write a dull book, can touch but here and there, on the little promontories of daily life, where it seems to him the spiritual lava boils up near the surface and betrays most poignantly the nature of the fire beneath....

It was a little over three years since the Falkners had moved into the Buena Vista Pleasance house. Husband and wife sat in the front room after their silent dinner alone, with the September breeze playing through the windows, which after a hot day had been thrown open. There was the debris of a children's party in the room and the hall,--dolls and toys, half-nibbled cakes and saucers of ice-cream. Bessie, who was very neat about herself, was quite Southern in her disregard for order. She was also an adorable hostess for children, because she gave them loose rein.

"What is it you wish to say?" she asked her husband in a cold, defensive tone that had grown almost habitual.

Though pale she was looking very pretty in a new dress that she had worn at a woman's luncheon, where she had spent the first part of the afternoon. She had been much admired at the luncheon, had taken the lead in the talk about a new novel which was making a ten days' sensation. Her mind was still occupied partly with what she had said about the book. These discussions with Rob on household matters, at increasingly frequent periods, always froze her. "He makes me show my worst side," she said to herself. At the children's tea, moreover, an attack of indigestion had developed. Bessie was fond of rich food, and in her nervous condition, which was almost chronic, it did not agree with her, and made her irritable.

"I have been going over our affairs," Falkner began in measured tones. That was the usual formula! Bessie thought he understood women very badly. She wondered if he ever did anything else those evenings he spent at home except "go over their affairs." She wished he would devote himself to some more profitable occupation.

"Well?"

Falkner looked tired and listless. The summer was always his hardest time, and this summer the road had been pushing its terminal work with actual ferocity. He wore glasses now, and was perceptibly bald. He was also slouchy about dress; Bessie could rarely induce him to put on evening clothes when they dined alone.

"Well?" she asked again. It was not polite of him to sit staring there as if his mind were a thousand miles away. A husband should show some good manners to a woman, even if she was his wife!

Their chairs were not far apart, but the tones of their voices indicated an immeasurable gulf that had been deepening for years. Falkner cleared his voice.

"As I have told you so often, Bessie, we are running behind all the time. It has got to a point where it must stop."

"What do you suggest?"

"You say that three servants are necessary?"

"You can see for yourself that they are busy all the time. There's work for four persons in this house, and there ought to be a governess beside. I don't at all like the influence of that school on Mildred--"

"Ought!" he exclaimed.

"If people live in a certain kind of house, in a certain neighborhood, they must live up to it,--that is all. If you wish to live as the Johnstons live, why that is another matter altogether."

Her logic was imperturbable. There was an unexpressed axiom: "If you want a dowd for your wife who can't dress or talk and whom nobody cares to know,--why you should have married some one else." Bessie awaited his reply in unassailable attractiveness.

"Very well," Falkner said slowly. "That being so, I have made up my mind what to do."

Mildred entered the room at this moment, looking for a book. She was eight, and one swift glance at her parents' faces was enough to show her quick intelligence that they were "discussing."

"What is it, Mildred?" Bessie asked in the cooing voice she always had for children.

"I want my _Jungle Book_," the little girl replied, taking a book from the table.

"Run along, girlie," Bessie said; and Mildred, having decided that it was not an opportune moment to make affectionate good-nights, went upstairs.

"Well, what is it?" Bessie demanded in the other tone.

"I have a purchaser for the house, at fair terms."

"Please remember that it is _my house."

"Wait! Whatever remains after paying off the mortgage and our debts, not more than six thousand dollars, I suppose, will be placed to your credit in the trust company."

"Why should I pay all our debts?"

Her husband looked at her, and she continued hastily:--

"What do you mean to do then? We can't live on the street."

"We can hire a smaller house somewhere else, or live in a flat."

Bessie waved her hand in despair; they had been over this so many times and she had proved so conclusively the impossibility of their squeezing into a flat. Men never stay convinced!

"Or board."

"Never!" she said firmly.

"You will have to choose."

This was the leading topic of their discussion, and enough has been said to reveal the lines along which it developed. There was much of a discursive nature, naturally, introduced by Bessie, who sought thereby to fog the issue and effect a compromise. She had found that was a good way to deal with a husband. But to-night Falkner kept steadily at his object.

"No, no, no!" he iterated in weary cadence. "It's no use to keep on expecting; five thousand is all they will pay me, and it is all I am really worth to them. And after this terminal work is finished, they may have nothing to offer me.... We must make a clean sweep to start afresh, right, on the proper basis." After a moment, he added by way of appeal, "And I think that will be the best for us, also."

"You expect me to do all the work?"

"Expect!" Falkner leaned his head wearily against the chair-back. Words seemed useless at this point. Bessie continued rather pitilessly:--

"Don't you want a home? Don't you want your children brought up decently with friends about them?"

"God knows I want a home!" the husband murmured.

"I think I have made a very good one,--other people think so."

"That's the trouble--too good for me!"

"I should think it would be an incentive for a man--"

"God!" Falkner thundered; "that you should say that!"

It had been in her heart a long time, but she had never dared to express it before,--the feeling that other men, no abler than Rob, contrived to give their wives, no more seductive than she, so much more than she had had.

"Other men find the means--"

She was thinking of John Lane, of Purrington,--a lively young broker of their acquaintance,--of Dr. Larned,--all men whose earning power had leaped ahead of Falkner's. Bessie resented the economic dependence of married women on their husbands. She believed in the foreign _dot system. "My daughters shall never marry as I did," she would say frankly to her friends. "There can be no perfectly happy marriage unless the woman is independent of her husband in money matters to a certain extent." ... For she felt that she had a right to her ideals, so long as they were not bad, vicious; a right to her own life as distinct from her husband's life, or the family life. "The old idea of the woman's complete subordination has gone," she would say. "It is better for the men, too, that women are no longer mere possessions without wills of their own." It was such ideas as this that earned for Bessie among her acquaintances the reputation of being "intelligent" and "modern."

And Falkner, a vision of the mountains and the lonely cabin before his eyes, remarked with ironic calm:--

"And why should I earn more than I do, assuming that I could sell myself at a higher figure?"

For the man, too, had his dumb idea,--the feeling that something precious inside him was being murdered by this pressing struggle to earn more, always more. As man he did not accept the simple theory that men were better off the harder they were pushed, that the male brute needed the spur of necessity to function, that all the man was good for was to be the competent forager. No! Within him there was a protest to the whole spirit of his times,--to the fierce competitive struggle. Something inside him proclaimed that he was not a mere maker of dollars, that life was more than food and lodging, even for those he loved most.

"What do I get out of it?" he added bitterly. "Perhaps I have done too much."

"Oh, if that is the way you feel,--if you don't love me!" Bessie exclaimed with wounded pride. "Probably you are tired of me. When a man is sick of his wife, he finds his family a burden, naturally."

And there they paused at the brink of domestic vulgarity.

Falkner saw the girl on the veranda of the mountain hotel, with her golden hair, her fresh complexion, her allurement. Bessie, most men would think, was even more desirable this minute than then as an unformed girl. The arched eyebrows, so clearly marked, the full lips, the dimpled neck, all spake:--

"Come kiss me, and stop talking like that!"

For a moment the old lure seized the man, the call of the woman who had once been sweet to him. Then his blood turned cold within him. That was the last shame of marriage,--that a wife should throw this lure into the reasoning, a husband to console himself--that way! Falkner rose to his feet.

"I shall make arrangements to sell the house."

"Very well; then I shall take the children and go to my mother in Denver."

"As you please."

Without looking again at his wife, he left the room.

Bessie had played blindly her last card, the wife's last card, and lost! There was bitterness and rebellion in her heart. She had loved her husband,--hadn't she shown it by marrying him instead of the mine owner? She had been a good woman, not because she hadn't had her chances of other men's admiration, as she sometimes let her husband know. Dickie Lawton had made love to her outrageously, and the last time the old Senator had been in St. Louis,--well, he would never come again to her house. Not a shadow of disloyalty had ever crossed her heart.

Bessie thought that a good wife must be chaste, of course; other matters of wifely duty were less distinct.

No! her husband did not care for her any more,--that was the real cause of their troubles. It was hard to wake up to such a fact after nine years of marriage with a man whom you loved!

There was a tragedy between, but not the one that Bessie suspected, nor the mere tragedy of extravagance. Each realized dimly that the other hindered rather than promoted that something within which each held tenaciously as most precious. Instead of giving mutually, they stole mutually, and the end of that sort of life must be concubinage or the divorce court--or a spiritual readjustment beyond the horizon of either Falkner or his wife.

* * * * *

"Did you know that the Falkners were going to give up their house?" Lane asked his wife.

"No, indeed. I saw Bessie at the symphony the other day, and she spoke of going out to Denver to visit her mother; but she didn't say anything about the house. Are you sure?"

"Yes; Falkner told Bainbridge he was selling it. And he wanted Bainbridge to see if there was an opening for him on the road in the East. I am afraid things haven't gone well with them."

"After all the trouble they had building, and such a pretty house! What a shame!"

Lane was in his outing clothes, about to go to the country club for an afternoon of golf with the Colonel. He looked very strong and handsome in his Scotch tweeds. Lately he had begun to take more exercise than he had found time for the first years of his marriage, had developed a taste for sport, and often found a day or two to fish or hunt when friends turned up from the East. Isabelle encouraged this taste, though she saw all the less of her husband; she had a feeling that it was good for him to relax, made him more of the gentleman, less of the hard-working clerk. The motor was at the door, but he dawdled.

"It is a pity about the Falkners,--I am afraid they are not getting on well together. He's a, peculiar fellow. Bainbridge tells me his work is only pretty good,--doesn't put his back into it the way a man must who means to get up in his profession these days. There is a lot doing in his line, too. It will be a shame if trouble comes to Bessie."

"The old difficulty, I suppose," Isabelle remarked; "not enough money--same story everywhere!"

It was the same story everywhere, even in these piping times of prosperity, with fortunes doubling, salaries going up, and the country pouring out its wealth. So few of her friends, even the wealthy ones, seemed to have enough money for their necessities or desires. If they had four servants, they needed six; if they had one motor, they must have two; and the new idea of country houses had simply doubled or trebled domestic budgets. It wasn't merely in the homes of ambitious middle-class folk that the cry went up,--"We must have more!" Isabelle herself had begun to feel that the Colonel might very well have given her a package of stocks and bonds at her wedding. Even with her skilful management, and John's excellent salary, there was so much they could not do that seemed highly desirable to do. "Everything costs so these days!" And to live meant to spend,--to live!

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