MoboReader > History > A Modern Chronicle -- Volume 03


A Modern Chronicle -- Volume 03 By Winston Churchill Characters: 24862

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03

It was the poet Cowper who sang of domestic happiness as the only bliss that has survived the Fall. One of the burning and unsolved questions of to-day is,-will it survive the twentieth century? Will it survive rapid transit and bridge and Woman's Rights, the modern novel and modern drama, automobiles, flying machines, and intelligence offices; hotel, apartment, and suburban life, or four homes, or none at all? Is it a weed that will grow anywhere, in a crevice between two stones in the city? Or is it a plant that requires tender care and the water of self-sacrifice? Above all, is it desirable?

Our heroine, as may have been suspected, has an adaptable temperament. Her natural position is upright, but like the reed, she can bend gracefully, and yields only to spring back again blithely. Since this chronicle regards her, we must try to look at existence through her eyes, and those of some of her generation and her sex: we must give the four years of her life in Rivington the approximate value which she herself would have put upon it-which is a chapter. We must regard Rivington as a kind of purgatory, not solely a place of departed spirits, but of those which have not yet arrived; as one of the many temporary abodes of the Great Unattached.

No philosophical writer has as yet made the attempt to define the change -as profound as that of the tadpole to the frog-between the lover and the husband. An author of ideals would not dare to proclaim that this change is inevitable: some husbands-and some wives are fortunate enough to escape it, but it is not unlikely to happen in our modern civilization. Just when it occurred in Howard Spence it is difficult to say, but we have got to consider him henceforth as a husband; one who regards his home as a shipyard rather than the sanctuary of a goddess; as a launching place, the ways of which are carefully greased, that he may slide off to business every morning with as little friction as possible, and return at night to rest undisturbed in a comfortable berth, to ponder over the combat of the morrow.

It would be inspiring to summon the vision of Honora, in rustling garments, poised as the figurehead of this craft, beckoning him on to battle and victory. Alas! the launching happened at that grimmest and most unromantic of hours-ten minutes of eight in the morning. There was a period, indeterminate, when she poured out his coffee with wifely zeal; a second period when she appeared at the foot of the stairs to kiss him as he was going out of the door; a third when, clad in an attractive dressing-gown, she waved him good-by from the window; and lastly, a fourth, which was only marked by an occasional protest on his part, when the coffee was weak.

"I'd gladly come down, Howard, if it seemed to make the least difference to you," said Honora. "But all you do is to sit with your newspaper propped up and read the stock reports, and growl when I ask you a polite question. You've no idea how long it makes the days out here, to get up early."

"It seems to me you put in a good many days in town," he retorted.

"Surely you don't expect me to spend all my time in Rivington!" she cried reproachfully; "I'd die. And then I am always having to get new cooks for you, because they can't make Hollandaise sauce like hotel chefs. Men have no idea how hard it is to keep house in the country,-I just wish you had to go to those horrid intelligence offices. You wouldn't stay in Rivington ten days. And all the good cooks drink."

Howard, indeed, with the aid of the village policeman, had had to expel from his kitchen one imperious female who swore like a dock hand, and who wounded Honora to the quick by remarking, as she departed in durance, that she had always lived with ladies and gentlemen and people who were somebody. The incident had tended further to detract from the romance of the country.

It is a mistake to suppose that the honeymoon disappears below the horizon with the rapidity of a tropical sun. And there is generally an afterglow. In spite of cooks and other minor clouds, in spite of visions of metropolitan triumphs (not shattered, but put away in camphor), life was touched with a certain novelty. There was a new runabout and a horse which Honora could drive herself, and she went to the station to meet her husband. On mild Saturday and Sunday afternoons they made long excursions, into the country-until the golf season began, when the lessons begun at Silverdale were renewed. But after a while certain male competitors appeared, and the lessons were discontinued. Sunday, after his pile of newspapers had religiously been disposed of, became a field day. Indeed, it is impossible, without a twinge of pity, to behold Howard taking root in Rivington, for we know that sooner or later he will be dug up and transplanted. The soil was congenial. He played poker on the train with the Rivington husbands, and otherwise got along with them famously. And it was to him an enigma-when occasionally he allowed his thoughts to dwell upon such trivial matters-why Honora was not equally congenial with the wives.

There were, no doubt, interesting people in Rivington about whom many stories could be written: people with loves and fears and anxieties and joys, with illnesses and recoveries, with babies, but few grandchildren. There were weddings at the little church, and burials; there were dances at the golf club; there were Christmas trees, where most of the presents -like Honora's-came from afar, from family centres formed in a social period gone by; there were promotions for the heads of families, and consequent rejoicings over increases of income; there were movings; there were-inevitable in the ever grinding action of that remorseless law, the survival of the fittest-commercial calamities, and the heartrending search for new employment.

Rivington called upon Honora in vehicles of all descriptions, in proportion to the improvidence or prosperity of the owners. And Honora returned the calls, and joined the Sewing Circle, and the Woman's Luncheon Club, which met for the purpose of literary discussion. In the evenings there were little dinners of six or eight, where the men talked business and the women house rent and groceries and gossip and the cheapest places in New York City to buy articles of the latest fashion. Some of them had actually built or were building houses that cost as much as thirty thousand dollars, with the inexplicable intention of remaining in Rivington the rest of their lives!

Honora was kind to these ladies. As we know, she was kind to everybody. She almost allowed two or three of them to hope that they might become her intimates, and made excursions to New York with them, and lunched in fashionable restaurants. Their range of discussion included babies and Robert Browning, the modern novel and the best matinee. It would be interesting to know why she treated them, on the whole, like travellers met by chance in a railroad station, from whom she was presently forever to depart. The time and manner of this departure were matters to be determined in the future.

It would be interesting to know, likewise, just at what period the intention of moving away from Rivington became fixed in Honora's mind. Honora circumscribed, Honora limited, Honora admitting defeat, and this chronicle would be finished. The gods exist somewhere, though many incarnations may, be necessary to achieve their companionship. And no prison walls loom so high as to appall our heroine's soul. To exchange one prison for another is in itself something of a feat, and an argument that the thing may be done again. Neither do the wise ones beat themselves uselessly against brick or stone. Howard-poor man!-is fatuous enough to regard a great problem as being settled once and for all by a marriage certificate and a benediction; and labours under the delusion that henceforth he may come and go as he pleases, eat his breakfast in silence, sleep after dinner, and spend his Sundays at the Rivington Golf Club. It is as well to leave him, at present, in blissful ignorance of his future.

Our sympathies, however, must be with Honora, who has paid the price for heaven, and who discovers that by marriage she has merely joined the ranks of the Great Unattached. Hitherto it had been inconceivable to her that any one sufficiently prosperous could live in a city, or near it and dependent on it, without being socially a part of it. Most momentous of disillusions! With the exception of the Sidney Dallams and one or two young brokers who occasionally came out over Sunday, her husband had no friends in New York. Rivington and the Holt family (incongruous mixture) formed the sum total of her acquaintance.

On Monday mornings in particular, if perchance she went to town, the huge signs which she read across the swamps, of breakfast foods and other necessaries, seemed, for some reason, best to express her isolation. Well-dressed, laughing people descended from omnibuses at the prettier stations, people who seemed all-sufficient to themselves; people she was sure she should like if only she knew them. Once the sight of her school friend, Ethel Wing, chatting with a tall young man, brought up a flood of recollections; again, in a millinery establishment, she came face to face with the attractive Mrs. Maitland whom she had seen at Hot Springs. Sometimes she would walk on Fifth Avenue, watching, with mingled sensations, the procession there. The colour, the movement, the sensation of living in a world where every one was fabulously wealthy, was at once a stimulation and a despair. Brougham after brougham passed, victoria after victoria, in which beautifully gowned women chatted gayly or sat back, impassive, amidst the cushions. Some of them, indeed, looked bored, but this did not mar the general effect of pleasure and prosperity. Even the people-well-dressed, too-in the hansom cabs were usually animated and smiling. On the sidewalk athletic, clear-skinned girls passed her, sometimes with a man, sometimes in groups of two and three, going in and out of the expensive-looking shops with the large, plate-glass windows.

All of these women, apparently, had something definite to do, somewhere to go, some one to meet the very next, minute. They protested to milliners and dressmakers if they were kept waiting, and even seemed impatient of time lost if one by chance bumped into them. But Honora had no imperative appointments. Lily Dallam was almost sure to be out, or going out immediately, and seemed to have more engagements than any one in New York.

"I'm so sorry, my dear," she would say, and add reproachfully: "why didn't you telephone me you were coming? If you had only let me know we might have lunched together or gone to the matinee. Now I have promised Clara Trowbridge to go to a lunch party at her house."

Mrs. Dallam had a most convincing way of saying such things, and in spite of one's self put one in the wrong for not having telephoned. But if indeed Honora telephoned-as she did once or twice in her innocence-Lily was quite as distressed.

"My dear, why didn't you let me know last night? Trixy Brent has given Lula Chandos his box at the Horse Show, and Lula would never, never forgive me if I backed out."

Although she lived in an apartment-in a most attractive one, to be sure -there could be no doubt about it that Lily Dallam was fashionable. She had a way with her, and her costumes were marvellous. She could have made her fortune either as a dressmaker or a house decorator, and she bought everything from "little" men and women whom she discovered herself. It was a curious fact that all of these small tradespeople eventually became fashionable, too. Lily was kind to Honora, and gave her their addresses before they grew to be great and insolent and careless whether one patronized them or not.

While we are confessing the trials and weaknesses of our heroine, we shall have to admit that she read, occasionally, the society columns of the newspapers. And in this manner she grew to have a certain familiarity with the doings of those favourites of fortune who had more delightful engagements than hours in which to fulfil them. So intimate was Lily Dallam with many of these Olympians that she spoke of them by their first names, or generally by their nicknames. Some two years after Honora's marriage th

e Dallams had taken a house in that much discussed colony of Quicksands, where sport and pleasure reigned supreme: and more than once the gown which Mrs. Sidney Dallam had worn to a polo match had been faithfully described in the public prints, or the dinners which she had given at the Quicksands Club. One of these dinners, Honora learned, had been given in honour of Mr. Trixton Brent.

"You ought to know Trixy, Honora," Mrs. Dallam declared; "he'd be crazy about you."

Time passed, however, and Mrs. Dallam made no attempt to bring about this most desirable meeting. When Honora and Howard went to town to dine with the Dallams, it was always at a restaurant, a 'partie carree'. Lily Dallam thought it dull to dine at home, and they went to the theatre afterwards-invariably a musical comedy. Although Honora did not care particularly for musical comedies, she always experienced a certain feverish stimulation which kept her wide awake on the midnight train to Rivington. Howard had a most exasperating habit of dozing in the corner of the seat.

"You are always sleepy when I have anything interesting to talk to you about," said Honora, "or reading stock reports. I scarcely see anything at all of you."

Howard roused himself.

"Where are we now?" he asked.

"Oh," cried Honora, "we haven't passed Hydeville. Howard, who is Trixton


"What about him?" demanded her husband.

"Nothing-except that he is one of Lily's friends, and she said she knew -I should like him. I wish you would be more interested in people. Who is he?"

"One of the best-known operators in the market," Howard answered, and his air implied that a lack of knowledge of Mr. Brent was ignorance indeed; "a daring gambler. He cornered cotton once, and raked in over a million. He's a sport, too."

"How old is he?"

"About forty-three."

"Is he married?" inquired Honora.

"He's divorced," said Howard. And she had to be content with so much of the gentleman's biography, for her husband relapsed into somnolence again. A few days later she saw a picture of Mr. Brent, in polo costume, in one of the magazines. She thought him good-looking, and wondered what kind of a wife he had had.

Honora, when she went to town for the day, generally could be sure of finding some one, at least, of the Holt family at home at luncheon time. They lived still in the same house on Madison Avenue to which Aunt Mary and Uncle Tom had been invited to breakfast on the day of Honora's arrival in her own country. It had a wide, brownstone front, with a basement, and a high flight of steps leading up to the door. Within, solemnity reigned, and this effect was largely produced by the prodigiously high ceilings and the black walnut doors and woodwork. On the second floor, the library where the family assembled was more cheerful. The books themselves, although in black-walnut cases, and the sun pouring in, assisted in making this effect.

Here, indeed, were stability and peace. Here Honora remade the acquaintance of the young settlement worker, and of the missionary, now on the Presbyterian Board of Missions. Here she charmed other friends and allies of the Holt family; and once met, somewhat to her surprise, two young married women who differed radically from the other guests of the house. Honora admired their gowns if not their manners; for they ignored her, and talked to Mrs. Holt about plans for raising money for the Working Girl's Relief Society.

"You should join us, my dear," said Mrs. Holt; "I am sure you would be interested in our work."

"I'd be so glad to, Mrs. Holt," replied Honora, "if only I didn't live in the country."

She came away as usual, feeling of having run into a cul de sac. Mrs. Holt's house was a refuge, not an outlet; and thither Honora directed her steps when a distaste for lunching alone or with some of her Rivington friends in the hateful, selfish gayety of a fashionable restaurant overcame her; or when her moods had run through a cycle, and an atmosphere of religion and domesticity became congenial.

"Howard," she asked unexpectedly one evening, as he sat smoking beside the blue tiled mantel, "have you got on your winter flannels?"

"I'll bet a hundred dollars to ten cents," he cried, "that you've been lunching with Mrs. Holt."

"I think you're horrid," said Honora.

Something must be said for her. Domestic virtue, in the face of such mocking heresy, is exceptionally difficult of attainment.

Mrs. Holt had not been satisfied with Honora's and Susan's accounts of the house in Stafford Park. She felt called upon to inspect it. And for this purpose, in the spring following Honora's marriage, she made a pilgrimage to Rivington and spent the day. Honora met her at the station, and the drive homeward was occupied in answering innumerable questions on the characters, conditions, and modes of life of Honora's neighbours.

"Now, my dear," said Mrs. Holt, when they were seated before the fire after lunch, "I want you to feel that you can come to me for everything. I must congratulate you and Howard on being sensible enough to start your married life simply, in the country. I shall never forget the little house in which Mr. Holt and I began, and how blissfully happy I was." The good lady reached out and took Honora's hand in her own. "Not that your deep feeling for your husband will ever change. But men are more difficult to manage as they grow older, my dear, and the best of them require a little managing for their own good. And increased establishments bring added cares and responsibilities. Now that I am here, I have formed a very fair notion of what it ought to cost you to live in such a place. And I shall be glad to go over your housekeeping books with you, and tell you if you are being cheated as I dare say you are."

"Oh, Mrs. Holt," Honora faltered, "I-I haven't kept any books. Howard just pays the bills."

"You mean to say he hasn't given you any allowance!" cried Mrs. Holt, aghast. "You don't know what it costs to run this house?"

"No," said Honora, humbly. "I never thought of it. I have no idea what

Howard's income may be."

"I'll write to Howard myself-to-night," declared Mrs. Holt.

"Please don't, Mrs. Holt. I'll-I'll speak to him," said Honora.

"Very well, then," the good lady agreed, "and I will send you one of my own books, with my own system, as soon as I get home. It is not your fault, my dear, it is Howard's. It is little short of criminal of him. I suppose this is one of the pernicious results of being on the Stock Exchange. New York is nothing like what it was when I was a girl-the extravagance by everybody is actually appalling. The whole city is bent upon lavishness and pleasure. And I am afraid it is very often the wives, Honora, who take the lead in prodigality. It all tends, my dear, to loosen the marriage tie-especially this frightful habit of dining in hotels and restaurants."

Before she left Mrs. Holt insisted on going over the house from top to bottom, from laundry to linen closet. Suffice it to say that the inspection was not without a certain criticism, which must be passed over.

"It is a little large, just for you and Howard, my dear," was her final comment. "But you are wise in providing for the future."

"For the future?" Honora repeated.

Mrs. Holt playfully pinched her cheek.

"When the children arrive, my dear, as I hope they will-soon," she said, smiling at Honora's colour. "Sometimes it all comes back to me-my own joy when Joshua was a baby. I was very foolish about him, no doubt. Annie and Gwendolen tell me so. I wouldn't even let the nurse sit up with him when he was getting his teeth. Mercy!" she exclaimed, glancing at the enamelled watch on her gown,-for long practice had enabled her to tell the time upside down,-"we'll be late for the train, my dear."

After returning from the station, Honora sat for a long time at her window, looking out on the park. The afternoon sunlight had the silvery tinge that comes to it in March; the red gravel of the centre driveway was very wet, and the grass of the lawns of the houses opposite already a vivid green; in the back-yards the white clothes snapped from the lines; and a group of children, followed by nurses with perambulators, tripped along the strip of sidewalk.

Why could not she feel the joys and desires of which Mrs. Holt had spoken? It never had occurred to her until to-day that they were lacking in her. Children! A home! Why was it that she did not want children? Why should such a natural longing be absent in her? Her mind went back to the days of her childhood dolls, and she smiled to think of their large families. She had always associated marriage with children-until she got married. And now she remembered that her childhood ideals of the matrimonial state had been very much, like Mrs. Holt's own experience of it: Why then had that ideal gradually faded until, when marriage came to her, it was faint and shadowy indeed? Why were not her spirit and her hopes enclosed by the walls in which she sat?

The housekeeping book came from Mrs. Holt the next morning, but Honora did not mention it to her husband. Circumstances were her excuse: he had had a hard day on the Exchange, and at such times he showed a marked disinclination for the discussion of household matters. It was not until the autumn, in fact, that the subject of finance was mentioned between them, and after a period during which Howard had been unusually uncommunicative and morose. Just as electrical disturbances are said to be in some way connected with sun spots, so Honora learned that a certain glumness and tendency to discuss expenses on the part of her husband were synchronous with a depression in the market.

"I wish you'd learn to go a little slow, Honora," he said one evening. "The bills are pretty stiff this month. You don't seem to have any idea of the value of money."

"Oh, Howard," she exclaimed, after a moment's pause for breath, "how can you say such a thing, when I save you so much?"

"Save me so much!" he echoed.

"Yes. If I had gone to Ridley for this suit, he would have charged me two hundred dollars. I took such pains-all on your account-to find a little man Lily Dallam told me about, who actually made it for one hundred and twenty-five."

It was typical of the unreason of his sex that he failed to be impressed by this argument.

"If you go on saving that way," said he, "we'll be in the hands of a receiver by Christmas. I can't see any difference between buying one suit from Ridley-whoever he may be-and three from Lily Dallam's 'little man,' except that you spend more than three times as much money."

"Oh, I didn't get three!-I never thought you could be so unjust, Howard.

Surely you don't want me to dress like these Rivington women, do you?"

"I can't see anything wrong with their clothes," he maintained.

"And to think that I was doing it all to please you!" she cried reproachfully.

"To please me!"

"Who else? We-we don't know anybody in New York. And I wanted you to be proud of me. I've tried so hard and-and sometimes you don't even look at my gowns, and say whether you like them and they are all for you."

This argument, at least, did not fail of results, combined as it was with a hint of tears in Honora's voice. Its effect upon Howard was peculiar -he was at once irritated, disarmed, and softened. He put down his cigarette-and Honora was on his knee! He could not deny her attractions.

"How could you be so cruel, Howard?" she asked.

"You know you wouldn't like me to be a slattern. It was my own idea to save money-I had a long talk about economy one day with Mrs. Holt. And you act as though you had such a lot of it when we're in town for dinner with these Rivington people. You always have champagne. If-if you're poor, you ought to have told me so, and I shouldn't have ordered another dinner gown."

"You've ordered another dinner gown!"

"Only a little one," said Honora, "the simplest kind. But if you're poor-"

She had made a discovery-to reflect upon his business success was to touch a sensitive nerve.

"I'm not poor," he declared. "But the bottom's dropped out of the market, and even old Wing is economizing. We'll have to put on the brakes for awhile, Honora."

It was shortly after this that Honora departed on the first of her three visits to St. Louis.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top