The Ebbing Tide

The Ebbing Tide by Elisabeth Ogilvie

Book: The Ebbing Tide by Elisabeth Ogilvie Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elisabeth Ogilvie
don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t been here.”
    â€œYou don’t have to say all that, you know.” His expression was quizzical.
    â€œYes, I do.” A faint warm glow of red came into her cheeks. “And I want to apologize because this happened tonight.”
    â€œWhy should you apologize, Mrs. Sorensen?”
    â€œIt’s a sure thing Owen won’t! He drinks too much, but he’s proud of it.”
    â€œI doubt that. It’s probably just self-defense. It’s more likely that he’s ashamed of himself, but he thinks he can’t do anything about it.”
    Joanna could drink her coffee now. It tasted better than her coffee had tasted for a week. She found herself eager to speak; now that the barriers were down, and Garland had seen Owen at his worst, there was no sense in skirting the subject and she wanted badly to talk to someone. With Nils gone, she had to keep so much to herself.
    â€œOwen always drank, but not the way he’s drinking now. It’s bad for him, and he knows it. Sometimes I think he’s doing it deliberately.” She paused, listening again for that harsh breathing from the sitting room. “He had pneumonia once, when he was away from home. What you said about pneumonia tonight—well, I’ve thought about it more than once.”
    â€œA big man like Owen can go down like a felled ox,” Dennis Garland said. He looked at her seriously across the table. “What’s on his mind, anyway?”
    â€œI think it’s the war,” said Joanna. “They wouldn’t take him. He was drunk for days after they turned him down.”
    The man took out his pipe and tobacco. “Heart,” he murmured. “I listened to it while I was putting him to bed. He looked so bad I thought we had something worse than a drunk on our hands. His pulse was very slow—and uneven.”
    Joanna felt a certain dread grip her like nausea. She watched Dennis fill his pipe with strong, square-tipped fingers, his head bent, almost fair in the lamplight. The moment was dream-like, but it was a bad dream. First Nils had gone, and then this stranger had come, and it seemed as if she had taken one blow after another since then. Common sense told her that he had nothing to do with the floating mine, the nightmare, Owen. But he had been here through all of them, and in her mind he would be irrevocably a part of them.
    She moistened her lips. “Is he all right?” she asked him steadily, but it was as if her steadiness didn’t deceive him. His head came up quickly, and across the table his eyes considered her, tired but perceptive. She felt herself clinging to that gaze as if it were a tangible support. “Is he all right?” she asked again.
    â€œHe’s all right for now. But he isn’t all right as far as his life’s concerned. It’s not pleasant to be getting on for forty with only a sense of your own failure to live with. Maybe he is drinking deliberately. That’s his escape. Everybody has an escape—”
    â€œEven you?”
    He smiled faintly. “Even I. Even you.”
    â€œEscape from what?” She straightened her shoulders even more.
    â€œDon’t be offended. It’s no disgrace . . . it’s the only sensible way, sometimes. It’s wrong only when you try to run away from the ordinary realities of life, instead of facing them, or finding a way around them.” He leaned back in his chair, and the scent of his tobacco smoke was aromatic, like the kind Nils used. “And then it’s a disgrace to choose the wrong escape.”
    â€œLiquor is wrong—” she began quickly. “I know that. I know Owen’s unhappy. But if he’d stop drinking long enough to put himself into good condition, he’d have a new slant on life, and he could figure out what to do.”
    â€œ ‘If he’d stop,’ ” he quoted gently. “Do

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