Back to the Index Page

 
 
 

The Cup That O'erflowed, An Outline by Will Lillibridge

 

I

In a room, half-lighted by the red rays of a harvest moon, a woman lay in the shadow; face downward, on the bed. It was not the figure of youth: the full lines of waist and hip spoke maturity. She was sobbing aloud and bitterly, so that her whole body trembled.

The clock struck the hour, the half, again the hour; and yet she lay there, but quiet, with face turned toward the window and the big, red harvest moon. It was not a handsome face; besides, now it was tear-stained and hard with the reflection of a bitter battle fought.

A light foot tapped down the hallway and stopped in front of the door. There was gentle accompaniment on the panel to the query, “Are you asleep?”

The woman on the bed opened her eyes wider, without a word.

The step in the hall tapped away into silence. The firm, round arm in its black elbow-sleeve setting, white, beautiful, made a motion of impatience and of weariness; then slowly, so slowly that one could scarce mark its coming, the blank stupor that comes as Nature's panacea to those whom she has tortured to the limit, crept over the woman, and the big brown eyes closed. The moon passed over and the night-wind, murmuring lower and lower, became still. In the darkness and silence the woman sobbed as she slept.

In the lonely, uncertain time between night and morning she awoke; her face and the pillow were damp with the tears of sleep. She was numb from the drawing of tight clothing, and with a great mental pain and a confused sense of sadness, that weighed on her like a tangible thing. Her mind groped uncertainly for a moment; then, with a great rush, the past night and the things before it returned to her.

“Oh, God, Thy injustice to us women!” she moaned.

The words roused her; and, craving companionship, she rose and lit the gas.

Back and forth she crossed the room, avoiding the furniture as by instinct—one moment smiling, bitter; the next with face moving, uncontrollable, and eyes damp: all the moods, the passions of a woman's soul showing here where none other might see. Tired out, at last, she stopped and disrobed, swiftly, without a glance at her own reflection, and returned to bed.

Nature will not be forced. Sleep will not come again. She can only think, and thoughts are madness. She gets up and moves to her desk. Aimlessly at first, as a respite, she begins to write. Her thoughts take words as she writes, and a great determination, an impulse of the moment, comes to her. She takes up fresh paper and writes sheet after sheet, swiftly. Passion sways the hand that writes, and shines warmly from the big, brown eyes. The first light of morning stains the east as she collects the scattered sheets, and writes a name on the envelope, a name which brings a tenderness to her eyes. Stealthily she tiptoes down the stairs and places the letter where the servant will see, and mail it in the early morning. A glad light, the light of relief, is in her face as she steals back slowly and creeps into bed.

“If it is wrong I couldn't help it,” she whispers low. She turns her face to the pillow and covers it with a soft, white arm. One ear alone shows, a rosy spot against the white.

II

Nine o'clock at a down-town medical office. A man who walks rapidly, but quietly, enters and takes up the morning mail. A number of business letters he finds and a dainty envelope, with writing which he knows at sight. He steps to the light and looks at the postmark.

“Good-morning,” says his partner, entering.

The man nods absently, and, tearing open the envelope, takes out this letter:

  “MY FRIEND:—

  “I don't know what you will think of me after this; anyway, I
  cannot help telling you what to-night lies heavy on my heart and
  mind. I've tried to keep still; God knows I've tried, and so
  hard; but Nature is Nature, and I am a woman. Oh, if you men
  only knew what that means, you'd forgive us much, and pity! You
  have so much in life and we so little, and you torture us so
  with that little, which to us is so great, our all; leading us
  on against our will, against our better judgment, until we love
  you, not realizing at first the madness of unrequited love. Oh,
  the cruelty of it, and but for a pastime.

  “But I do not mean to charge you. You are not as other men; you
  are not wrong. Besides, why should I not say it? I love you.
  Yes, you; a man who knows not the meaning of the word; who meant
  to be but a friend, my best friend. Oh, you have been blind,
  blind all the years since first I knew you; since first you
  began telling me of yourself and of your hopes. You did not know
  what it meant to such as I to live in the ambition of another,
  to hope through another's hope, to exult in another's success. I
  am confessing, for the first time—and the last time. Know, man,
  all the time I loved you. Forgive me that I tell you. I cannot
  help it. I am a woman, and love in a woman's life is stronger
  than will, stronger than all else together.

  “I ask nothing. I expect nothing. I could not keep quiet longer.
  It was killing me, and you never saw. I did not mean to tell you
  anything, till this moment—least of all, in this way. But it is
  done, and I'm glad—yes, happier than I have been for weeks. It
  is our woman's nature; a nature we do not ourselves understand.

  “My friend, I cannot see you again. Things cannot go on as they
  were. It was torture—you know not what torture—and life is
  short. If you would be kind, avoid me. The town is wide, and we
  have each our work. Time will pass. Remember, you have done
  nothing wrong. If there be one at fault it is Nature, for only
  half doing her work. You are good and noble. Good-bye. I trust
  you, for, God bless you, I love you.”

The letter dropped, and the man stood looking out with unseeing eyes, on the shifting street.

A patient came in and sat down, waiting.

He had read as in a dream. Now with a rush came thought,—the past, the present, mingled; and as by a great light he saw clearly the years of comradery, thoughtless on his part, filled as his life had been with work and with thought of the future. It all came home to him now, and the coming was of brightness. The coldness melted from his face; the very squareness of the jaw seemed softer; the knowledge that is joy and that comes but once in a lifetime, swept over him, warm, and his heart beat swift. All things seemed beautiful.

Without a word he took up his hat, and walked rapidly toward the elevator. A smile was in the frank blue eyes, and to all whom he met, whether stranger or friend, he gave greeting.

The patient, waiting for his return, grew tired and left, and leaving, slammed the office door behind him.

 
 
 

Back to the Index Page