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The Wheel of Life By Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow Characters: 12507

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

After he had gone Laura remained standing where he had left her, until the sound of the hall door closing sharply caused her to draw a breath of relief as if there had come a temporary lifting of the torture she endured. Then, with her first movement, as she looked about the room in the effort to bring order into the confusion of her thoughts, her eyes encountered the array of wedding presents, and the expression of her face changed back into the panic terror in which she had couched against the wall before Kemper's approach. She still saw herself revealed in the light of the scorn which had blazed in his eyes; and the one idea which possessed her now was to escape beyond the place where that look might again reach her. An instinct for flight like that of a wild thing in a jungle shook through her until she stood in a quiver from head to foot; and though she knew neither where she was going, nor of what use this flight would be to her, she went into her bedroom and began to dress herself hastily in her walking clothes. As she tied on her veil and took up her little black bag from the drawer she heard her own voice, which sounded to her ears like the voice of a stranger, repeating the words she had said to Kemper a little earlier: "No-no-I cant. It is impossible." And she said over these words many times because they infused into her heart the courage of despair which she needed to impel her to the step before her. When the door closed after her and she went down into the street, she was still speaking them half aloud to herself: "No-no-it is impossible."

The dusk had already settled; ahead of her the lights of the city shone blurred through the greyness, while above the housetops Auriga was driving higher in the east. With the first touch of fresh air in her face, she felt herself inspired by an energy; which seemed a part of the wind that blew about her; and as she walked rapidly through streets which she did not notice toward an end of which she was still ignorant, her thoughts breaking from the restraint which held them, rushed in an excited tumult through her brain.

"Why did he look at me so?" she asked, "for it is this look which has driven me away-which has made me hate both him and myself." She tried to recall the other expression which she had loved in his face, but instead there returned to her only the angry look with which he had responded to her confession.

As she thought of it now it appeared to her that death was the only means by which she could free herself and him from this marriage; and the several ways of dying which were possible to her crowded upon her with the force of an outside pressure. She might be crushed in the street? or walk on till she found the river? But the different approaches to death showed to her as so hideous that she knew she could not summon the courage with which to select a particular one and follow it to the end. "Yet I shall never go back," she thought, "he does not love me-he wishes only to spare himself the scandal. If he loved me he could never have looked at me like that. And I loved him three weeks ago," she added. Her love was gone now, and the memory of it had become intolerable to her, yet the vacancy where it had been was so great that death occurred to her again as the only outcome. "Though I hate him it seems impossible that I should live on without him," she said.

But the next instant when she endeavored to recall his face she could remember him only by his casual likeness to Perry Bridewell, and she saw him standing upon the hearthrug while he pulled in angry perplexity at his moustache. The words he had spoken, the tones of his voice, and her own emotion, were blotted from her recollection as if a thick darkness had wiped them out, and from the hour of her deepest anguish she could bring back only a meaningless gesture and the white rosebud he had worn in his coat. What she had suffered then was the dying agony of the thing within her which was really herself, and there remained to her now only the vacant image from which the passion and the life had flown. "How could it make so much difference when I can barely remember it?" she asked; and it seemed to her at the instant that nothing that could happen in one's existence really mattered, since big and little were all equal, and the memory of an emotion faded sooner than the memory of a gesture.

Pausing for a moment on the corner, she watched curiously the faces moving under the electric lights, and she found herself wondering presently if each man or woman in the crowd was loving and hating or seeking an escape from both love and hatred? A stout man wearing a red necktie, a pretty woman in a purple coat, a pale girl carrying a heavy bundle, a bent shouldered clerk who walked with a satisfied and affected air-as each one passed she saw his features and even his hidden thoughts in a grotesque clearness which seemed to come partly from an illumination within herself and partly from the glare of the lights without. "The man in the red necktie is happy because he has made money; the pretty woman is happy because she is loved-but the pale girl and the bent shouldered clerk are wretched. They have neither love nor money, and they have not found out how little either is worth."

For a while she watched them, almost forgetting her own unhappiness in the excitement of their discovered histories; but wearying suddenly, she turned away and entered a street where the darkness had already gathered. Here she came close upon a pair of lovers who walked arm in arm, but the sight irritated her so she turned again at the next corner. The question whether she should go home or not thrust itself upon her, and it seemed to her that it would be better to die in the street than to return to the persuasions of Gerty, the reproaches of Mrs. Payne, and the complacency of Kemper. As she hurried on in the darkness she saw her past as distinctly as if her eyes were turned backward, and in this vision of it there showed to her the steep upward way of the spirit, and she remembered the day when her destiny had seemed to lie mapped out for her in the hand of God. "Was this what God meant?" she demanded, and because there was no answer to the qu

estion she asked it again and again the more passionately. "Or perhaps there is no God after all," she added.

A sob broke from her lips, and a policeman, who was passing, threw first an enquiring, then a respectful glance at her, and went on again. A child playing in the street ran up to beg for some money, and she opened her bag and gave him a piece of silver with a smile.

"Thank you, lady," he responded, and ran back into the shadows. As he crossed the street she followed him with her eyes, seeing him hasten, his palm outstretched, to an Italian who was roasting chestnuts in a charcoal burner on the opposite sidewalk.

The darkness had grown heavier and as she walked rapidly through streets which she did not know, her nervous energy failed her, and she began to tremble presently from exhaustion. Again she asked herself for the last time if it were possible for her to go home and face Mrs. Payne and Gerty and marry Kemper in three days. A fantastic humour in the situation brought a laugh to her lips-for whenever she was confronted by the hopelessness of her escape, the arguments for her marriage presented themselves to her in the forms of cases of silver and of her wedding dress in its white satin box. Mrs. Payne had spent the afternoon, she knew, in arranging this silver on covered tables in an empty room, and she could see plainly the old lady's animated movements, the careful eye with which she estimated the value of each gift, and the expression of approval or contempt with which she grouped it according to its importance. Then she thought of Kemper held to his love by the embarrassment of these presents, by the hopelessness of returning them, and by his conventional horror of "getting into print," and at the picture the laugh grew almost hysterical on her lips. How sordid it all was! This array of silver, Mrs. Payne's reproachful comic mask, and Kemper, pulling his moustache as he stood upon the hearthrug, all whirled confusedly in the dimly lighted street before her. She felt her knees tremble, and while this weakness lasted it seemed to her that it would be better to go back and get warm again, and submit to anything they forced upon her. Her flesh, in its weakness, would have yielded, but something more powerful than the flesh-the soul within which she had so long rejected-struggled on after the impulses of the body had surrendered.

The lights grew suddenly blurred before her eyes, and looking up, she found that she had reached a ferry, and that a crowd from a neighbouring factory was hurrying through the open doors into the boat which was about to put off. For the first time it occurred to her that she might leave the city; and going inside she bought a ticket and followed the people who were rushing across the gangway. Where it would take her she had no idea, but when after a few minutes the boat had crossed to the other side, she went out again with the crowd, and then turning in the direction where there appeared to be open country, she walked on more rapidly as if her thoughts flew straight ahead into the broader spaces of the horizon.

At first there were rows of streets, a few scattered shops in among the houses, and groups of workmen from the factories lounging upon the sidewalk. A child, with a crooked back, in a red dress, ran across the pavement in front of her and stopped with an exclamation before a window which contained a display of pink and white candy. Then a second child joined her, and the two fell to discussing the various highly coloured sweets arrayed on little fancy squares of paper behind the glass. As Laura watched them, pausing breathlessly in her walk, every trivial detail of this incident seemed to her to possess an equal importance with all other happenings large or small: for the events of her individual experience had so distorted her perceptions of the ascending values of life, that her own luckless pursuit of happiness appeared of no greater importance in her eyes than the child, with the crooked back, making her choice of sweets. Her own emotions, indeed, interested her no longer, but she was aware of a dull curiosity concerning the crippled child. Would her whole life become misshapen because of the physical form which she wore like an outer garment? And she felt, at the thought, that she would like to stand upon the side of the child and upon the side of all who were oppressed and made miserable by the crookedness either of the body or of destiny.

While this pity was still in her mind she tried to recall Kemper as she had first known him, but it was to remember only that he had reddened with anger as he spoke to her, and that the sunlight, falling upon him, had revealed the gray hair on his temples. The physical aspect which had meant so little in her love was all that the recollection of him could suggest to her now, for she found that the visual memory still remained after the passion which had informed it with life and colour was blotted out.

The child interested her no longer, and walking on again, she passed, after a time, the scattered houses, and came out upon the open road which showed white and deserted beneath the stars. Looking overhead, as she went on, her gaze swept the heavens with that sense of absolute stillness which comes under the solitude of the sky, and standing presently in the dust of the road, she fixed her eyes upon the Pleiades shining softly far above the jagged line of the horizon. Her feet ached beneath her, but her head seemed suddenly spinning through clear spaces among the stars, and while she stood there, she felt that the distance between her and the sky existed only in the hindrance of her body. With that laid aside might she not recover her soul and God there as well as here?

Again she went on, but this time she found that her limbs could make no further effort, and struggling step by step, to a bend in the road, she looked about her in a physical agony which left her consciousness only of her desire for rest. A house, set back from the roadside in a clump of trees, showed to her as she turned, and going through the little whitewashed gate and up the path, she knocked at the door and then stood trembling before the threshold.

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