The Common Lot

by Robert Welch Herrick

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Chapter XXXIV

Dr. Coburn had at last found time for the episode of matrimony, so Venetia announced to Helen one afternoon. She had run in on her way to the city, and her eyes sparkled mischievously as she added:—

"It's just as well to have it over before Mrs. P. returns—it will save her so much embarrassment, you know. She won't have to strike an attitude. And it's lots easier this way, no fuss, no bother, and you have it all to yourself. Can you and Jack come 'round to-morrow afternoon about four? Dr. Knowles's Church—you know where it is. Don't be late." As she started for the door, she turned swiftly, threw her arms about the older woman, and kissed her vehemently.

"Do you know, puss, I think we are going to be awfully happy!" And then she darted out of the door.

They met Venetia and the doctor at the door of the church. Coburn, who had on a new brown business suit that betrayed its origin by its numerous creases, grinned very broadly as he raised his hat to Helen.

"Come here, Pete," Venetia called busily to the old terrier, who hobbled after her. "Pete had to come to see us married," she explained, as she tied him to the iron fence near the entrance. "But I don't suppose Dr. Knowles would like to have him come in and sit in the corner of a pew. I'm sure he'd behave very well, though! Uncle Harry couldn't come, poor dear; he's over in Carlsbad taking the cure,—but he wrote such a nice letter to my man. We didn't ask anybody else. Well, are we all ready?"

"Just about!" the doctor answered briskly. "Fine day for a wedding, isn't it?"

"Don't whimper, Pete," Venetia said for a last warning, turning to the dog, and patting him once more. "Your missy won't be gone long, and when she comes back, you'll have cream for your supper and fruit-cake, too."

Then the four walked up the long aisle of the great bare church, and presently Dr. Knowles came from the vestry and performed the ceremony. Venetia stood very still and straight, drawing in her breath in little gasps, looking very hard at the broad face of the minister. Coburn, too, stood very straight, but Helen, who watched the two lovingly while the words of the contract rolled forth in the empty church, saw the look of tenderness in the man's face as his glance rested steadfastly on the woman by his side.

In a few minutes they were out again in the sunlight. Pete was surrounded by a group of small boys, who were debating whether he would bite if they got near enough to him.

"Here, boys," Venetia called, as she untied Pete's leash. "This is the day you must celebrate! Give me some money, Sayre."

And she distributed to the delighted urchins all the silver that the doctor had in his pockets. Then the four went to a restaurant in the city, where they had dinner together, Jackson ordering the champagne, and they talked until Helen rose and declared it was time to leave the bride and bridegroom. The doctor and Venetia walked off westward to their new home, arm in arm, Pete dangling in the rear from his leash, which his mistress held.

"What good times they will have!" Helen exclaimed, watching them bob across the gayly lighted thoroughfare, dragging the terrier after them. "I suppose it's because they're both what Venetia would call 'real clear sports.'"

After the newly married couple had disappeared, the Harts walked leisurely northwards, and as the night was calm and warm, they kept on beyond Ohio Street, strolling along the shore of the lake towards the Park. The great houses across the boulevard were already deserted by their occupants, who had begun the annual migration. The architect's eye roved over the gloomy façades of these monstrous piles of brick and stone, to which the toilsome steps of some successful ones in the city had led; and he began to wonder, as he had when a boy, why in this world, which seemed to hold so many pleasant things, the owners of these ugly houses could be content to live in them. To the boy's mind the ambition to encase one's self in a great dwelling had seemed so inadequate! Again, to-night, he looked at their burly shadows, and speculated over them without envy.

They loitered arm in arm beside the sea-wall, listening to the heaving lake, the cool splash of water on the concrete embankment below the walk.

"Nell, I saw Wright to-day," he remarked thoughtfully, "and had a long talk with him."

She turned her head and waited.

"He's a good deal more of a man than I used to think him!" he went on slowly. "There were a lot of people waiting to see him, and he had to go somewhere, but he didn't seem to mind that I was there with him a long time. I guess he knows pretty nearly all that has happened to me."

Wright had said nothing about the Glenmore or Graves, however, and Jackson had not gone into his story very far. But the older man had heard, it is true, something here and there, from this man and that, over the lunch table at his club, from one or two men in his office. And he had imagination enough to picture the whole story.

"I told him I was thinking of going somewhere else," Jackson continued slowly.

"What did he say?"

"Oh, a good many things,—he's a pretty human fellow,—looks at many sides of a matter. Well, in the end he offered me a place with him! Not the old thing,—he's got some new men in, and can't put any one ahead of them. I guess he would have to make a place!"

She leaned forward, repressing the question that rose swiftly to her lips. But after a few moments, Jackson answered it slowly.

"I told him that I would like to think it over for a day or two."

She refrained still from questioning him, and they strolled on slowly into the park. There on the benches facing the lake sat many couples, crowded close together, resting after the warm day's work. Along the stone embankment outside the glare of the arc lights the lake heaved in an oily calm without a ripple, and from the dark surface of the water rose a current of cold air. The architect and his wife turned back instinctively into the empty darkness of the boulevard.

"It's pretty good of the old boy to be willing to take back a man who's been on his knees," Jackson mused, breaking the long silence in which they had walked.

"Don't!" she murmured. "That hurts—don't think that!"

"Suppose we try it, Nell," he said quickly. "I know you would like to have me—and perhaps it is best."

"But you mustn't do it just for my sake!"

"I think you are rather fussy!" he retorted. "Why else should I do it, my dear, dear wife?"

"But you might regret it, then! You must be sure,—not do it just to please me, but because you see things as I do, and know that it's the only way for us to live and have peace."

Doubtless she asked too much of the man she loved, for most beings—instinctive creatures—act from a philosophy of purely personal influences. Jackson Hart, certainly, would never have considered relinquishing his ambition to thrust himself forward, to have a career in this world, out of any intellectual convictions. Nor could it be said that his wife's half-formulated arguments had persuaded him. But she herself had convinced him, the strong, self-contained womanhood in her, her undaunted spirit, with which he lived daily, and which perforce colored his soul. Especially, these latter weeks of suspense and despair, while their child's life was in the balance, she had made him hers. If it were a victory for the woman, it was an emotional victory, which she had won over her husband,—and such victories are the only ones that endure in these matters. He felt her spirit as he had never felt anything else, and realized at last dimly that in all the big questions of life she was right. Beautiful, loving, strong, and fearless, she was his! And what was his "career" against her heart and soul?

"Perhaps you will regret it," he remarked half playfully, "and will want me to change later and do better by you and the children."

"Never, never!" She drew his arm closer to her breast, as if symbolically to show him her absolute content with what she had.

"Well, those fellows will grin when I walk into that office after my little splurge!" He swept his left arm through the air in an arc to describe the upward and downward course of a rocket "Into the ranks, at last!"

"To work, and live, and love, a little while," she added softly.

"It isn't exactly the way uncle Powers solved the problem!" he remarked teasingly. "I suppose you would have had him stay milking cows on that Vermont farm?"

"I didn't marry him!" she retorted swiftly. "And perhaps if he had it to do again, he would stay to milk the cows."

"You think so!" he exclaimed sceptically.

For her, at least, there was neither doubt nor hesitation. She answered surely the inarticulate call of the larger world, the call of the multitudes that labor and die without privilege, to share with them the common lot of life.


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