MoboReader > History > A Modern Chronicle -- Volume 03

   Chapter 2 STAFFORD PARK

A Modern Chronicle -- Volume 03 By Winston Churchill Characters: 13147

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


There is a terrifying aspect of all great cities. Rome, with its leviathan aqueducts, its seething tenements clinging to the hills, its cruel, shining Palatine, must have overborne the provincial traveller coming up from Ostia. And Honora, as she stood on the deck of the ferry-boat, approaching New York for the second time in her life, could not overcome a sense of oppression. It was on a sharp December morning, and the steam of the hurrying craft was dazzling white in the early sun. Above and beyond the city rose, overpowering, a very different city, somehow, than that her imagination had first drawn. Each of that multitude of vast towers seemed a fortress now, manned by Celt and Hun and, Israelite and Saxon, captained by Titans. And the strife between them was on a scale never known in the world before, a strife with modern arms and modern methods and modern brains, in which there was no mercy.

Hidden somewhere amidst those bristling miles of masonry to the northward of the towers was her future home. Her mind dwelt upon it now, for the first time, and tried to construct it. Once she had spoken to Howard of it, but he had smiled and avoided discussion. What would it be like to have a house of one's own in New York? A house on Fifth Avenue, as her girl friends had said when they laughingly congratulated her and begged her to remember that they came occasionally to New York. Those of us who, like Honora, believe in Providence, do not trouble ourselves with mere matters of dollars and cents. This morning, however, the huge material towers which she gazed upon seemed stronger than Providence, and she thought of her husband. Was his fibre sufficiently tough to become eventually the captain of one of those fortresses, to compete with the Maitlands and the Wings, and others she knew by name, calmly and efficiently intrenched there?

The boat was approaching the slip, and he came out to her from the cabin, where he had been industriously reading the stock reports, his newspapers thrust into his overcoat pocket.

"There's no place like New York, after all," he declared, and added, "when the market's up. We'll go to a hotel for breakfast."

For some reason she found it difficult to ask the question on her lips.

"I suppose," she said hesitatingly, "I suppose we couldn't go-home,

Howard. You-you have never told me where we are to live."

As before, the reference to their home seemed to cause him amusement. He became very mysterious.

"Couldn't you pass away a few hours shopping this morning, my dear?"

"Oh, yes," replied Honora.

"While I gather in a few dollars," he continued. "I'll meet you at lunch, and then we'll go-home."

As the sun mounted higher, her spirits rose with it. New York, or that strip of it which is known to the more fortunate of human beings, is a place to raise one's spirits on a sparkling day in early winter. And Honora, as she drove in a hansom from shop to shop, felt a new sense of elation and independence. She was at one, now, with the prosperity that surrounded her: her purse no longer limited, her whims existing only to be gratified. Her reflections on this recently attained state alternated with alluring conjectures on the place of abode of which Howard had made such a mystery. Where was it? And why had he insisted, before showing it to her, upon waiting until afternoon?

Newly arrayed in the most becoming of grey furs, she met him at that hitherto fabled restaurant which in future days-she reflected-was to become so familiar-Delmonico's. Howard was awaiting her in the vestibule; and it was not without a little quiver of timidity and excitement and a consequent rise of colour that she followed the waiter to a table by the window. She felt as though the assembled fashionable world was staring at her, but presently gathered courage enough to gaze at the costumes of the women and the faces of the men. Howard, with a sang froid of which she felt a little proud, ordered a meal for which he eventually paid a fraction over eight dollars. What would Aunt Mary have said to such extravagance? He produced a large bunch of violets.

"With Sid Dallam's love," he said, as she pinned them on her gown. "I tried to get Lily-Mrs. Sid-for lunch, but you never can put your finger on her. She'll amuse you, Honora."

"Oh, Howard, it's so much pleasanter lunching alone to-day. I'm glad you didn't. And then afterwards-?"

He refused, however, to be drawn. When they emerged she did not hear the directions he gave the cabman, and it was not until they turned into a narrow side street, which became dingier and dingier as they bumped their way eastward, that she experienced a sudden sinking sensation.

"Howard!" she cried. "Where are you going? You must tell me."

"One of the prettiest suburbs in New Jersey-Rivington," he said. "Wait till you see the house."

"Suburbs! Rivington! New Jersey!" The words swam before Honora's eyes, like the great signs she had seen printed in black letters on the tall buildings from the ferry that morning. She had a sickening sensation, and the odour of his cigarette in the cab became unbearable. By an ironic trick of her memory, she recalled that she had told the clerks in the shops where she had made her purchases that she would send them her address later. How different that address from what she had imagined it!

"It's in the country!" she exclaimed.

To lunch at Delmonico's for eight dollars and live in Rivington

Howard appeared disturbed. More than that, he appeared astonished, solicitous.

"Why, what's the matter, Honora?" he asked. "I thought you'd like it. It's a brand new house, and I got Lily Dallam to furnish it. She's a wonder on that sort of thing, and I told her to go ahead-within reason. I talked it over with your aunt and uncle, and they agreed with me you'd much rather live out there for a few years than in a flat."

"In a flat!" repeated Honora, with a shudder.

"Certainly," he said, flicking his ashes out of the window. "Who do you think I am, at my age? Frederick T. Maitland, or the owner of the Brougham Building?"

"But-Howard," she protested, "why didn't you talk it over with me?"

"Because I wanted to surprise you," he replied. "I spent a month and a half looking for that house. And you never seemed to care. It didn't occur to me that you would care-for the first few years," he added, and there was in his voice a note of reproach that did not escape her. "You never seemed inclined to discuss business with me, Honora. I didn't think you were interested

. Dallam and I are making money. We expect some day to be on Easy Street-so to speak-or Fifth Avenue. Some day, I hope, you can show some of these people the road. But just now what capital we have has to go into the business."

Strangely enough, in spite of the intensity of her disappointment, she felt nearer to her husband in that instant than at any time since their marriage. Honora, who could not bear to hurt any one's feelings, seized his hand repentantly. Tears started in her eyes.

"Oh, Howard, I must seem to you very ungrateful," she cried. "It was such a-such a surprise. I have never lived in the country, and I'm sure it will be delightful-and much more healthful than the city. Won't you forgive me?"

If he had known as much about the fluctuations of the feminine temperament as of those of stocks, the ease with which Honora executed this complete change of front might have disturbed him. Howard, as will be seen, possessed that quality which is loosely called good nature. In marriage, he had been told (and was ready to believe), the wind blew where it listed; and he was a wise husband who did not spend his time in inquiry as to its sources. He kissed her before he helped her out of the carriage. Again they crossed the North River, and he led her through the wooden ferry house on the New Jersey side to where the Rivington train was standing beside a platform shed.

There was no parlour car. Men and women-mostly women-with bundles were already appropriating the seats and racks, and Honora found herself wondering how many of these individuals were her future neighbours. That there might have been an hysterical element in the lively anticipation she exhibited during the journey did not occur to Howard Spence.

After many stops,-in forty-two minutes, to be exact, the brakeman shouted out the name of the place which was to be her home, and of which she had been ignorant that morning. They alighted at an old red railroad station, were seized upon by a hackman in a coonskin coat, and thrust into a carriage that threatened to fall to pieces on the frozen macadam road. They passed through a village in which Honora had a glimpse of the drug store and grocery and the Grand Army Hall; then came detached houses of all ages in one and two-acre plots some above the road, for the country was rolling; a very attractive church of cream-coloured stone, and finally the carriage turned sharply to the left under an archway on which were the words "Stafford Park," and stopped at a very new curbstone in a very new gutter on the right.

"Here we are!" cried Howard, as he fished in his trousers pockets for money to pay the hackman.

Honora looked around her. Stafford Park consisted of a wide centre-way of red gravel, not yet packed, with an island in its middle planted with shrubbery and young trees, the bare branches of which formed a black tracery against the orange-red of the western sky. On both sides of this centre-way were concrete walks, with cross-walks from the curbs to the houses. There were six of these-three on each side-standing on a raised terrace and about two hundred feet apart. Beyond them, to the northward, Stafford Park was still a wilderness of second-growth hardwood, interspersed with a few cedars.

Honora's house, the first on the right, was exactly like the other five. If we look at it through her eyes, we shall find this similarity its main drawback. If we are a little older, however, and more sophisticated, we shall suspect the owner of Stafford Park and his architect of a design to make it appear imposing. It was (indefinite and much-abused term) Colonial; painted white; and double, with dormer windows of diagonal wood-surrounded panes in the roof. There was a large pillared porch on its least private side-namely, the front. A white-capped maid stood in the open doorway and smiled at Honora as she entered.

Honora walked through the rooms. There was nothing intricate about the house; it was as simple as two times four, and really too large for her and Howard. Her presents were installed, the pictures and photograph frames and chairs, even Mr. Isham's dining-room table and Cousin Eleanor's piano. The sight of these, and of the engraving which Aunt Mary had sent on, and which all her childhood had hung over her bed in the little room at home, brought the tears once more to her eyes. But she forced them back bravely.

These reflections were interrupted by the appearance of the little maid announcing that tea was ready, and bringing her two letters. One was from Susan Holt, and the other, written in a large, slanting, and angular handwriting, was signed Lily Dallam. It was dated from New York.

"My dear Honora," it ran, "I feel that I must call you so, for Sid and Howard, in addition to being partners, are such friends. I hesitated so long about furnishing your house, my dear, but Howard insisted, and said he wished to surprise you. I am sending you this line to welcome you, and to tell you that I have arranged with the furniture people to take any or all things back that you do not like, and exchange them. After all, they will be out of date in a few years, and Howard and Sid will have made so much money by that time, I hope, that I shall be able to leave my apartment, which is dear, and you will be coming to town."

Honora laid down the sheet, and began to tidy her hair before the glass of the highly polished bureau in her room. A line in Susan's letter occurred to her: "Mother hopes to see you soon. She asked me to tell you to buy good things which will last you all your life, and says that it pays."

The tea-table was steaming in the parlour in front of the wood fire in the blue tiled fireplace. The oak floor reflected its gleam, and that of the electric lights; the shades were drawn; a slight odour of steam heat pervaded the place. Howard, smoking a cigarette, was reclining on a sofa that evidently was not made for such a purpose, reading the evening newspapers.

"Well, Honora," he said, as she took her seat behind the tea-table, "you haven't told me how you like it. Pretty cosey, eh? And enough spare room to have people out over Sundays."

"Oh, Howard, I do like it," she cried, in a desperate attempt-which momentarily came near succeeding to convince herself that she could have desired nothing more. "It's so sweet and clean and new-and all our own."

She succeeded, at any rate, in convincing Howard. In certain matters, he was easily convinced.

"I thought you'd be pleased when you saw it, my dear," he said.

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