MoboReader > Literature > The Man-Made World; Or, Our Androcentric Culture

   Chapter 4 TRANSPLANTED

The Man-Made World; Or, Our Androcentric Culture By Charlotte Perkins Gilman Characters: 19639

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Sometimes a plant in its own habitat

Is overcrowded, starved, oppressed and daunted;

A palely feeble thing; yet rises quickly,

Growing in height and vigor, blooming thickly,

When far transplanted.

The days between Vivian's decision and her departure were harder than she had foreseen. It took some courage to make the choice. Had she been alone, independent, quite free to change, the move would have been difficult enough; but to make her plan and hold to it in the face of a disapproving town, and the definite opposition of her parents, was a heavy undertaking.

By habit she would have turned to Mrs. St. Cloud for advice; but between her and that lady now rose the vague image of a young boy, dead,-she could never feel the same to her again.

Dr. Bellair proved a tower of strength. "My dear girl," she would say to her, patiently, but with repressed intensity, "do remember that you are not a child! You are twenty-five years old. You are a grown woman, and have as much right to decide for yourself as a grown man. This isn't wicked-it is a wise move; a practical one. Do you want to grow up like the rest of the useless single women in this little social cemetery?"

Her mother took it very hard. "I don't see how you can think of leaving us. We're getting old now-and here's Grandma to take care of--"

"Huh!" said that lady, with such marked emphasis that Mrs. Lane hastily changed the phrase to "I mean to be with-you do like to have Vivian with you, you can't deny that, Mother."

"But Mama," said the girl, "you are not old; you are only forty-three. I am sorry to leave you-I am really; but it isn't forever! I can come back. And you don't really need me. Sarah runs the house exactly as you like; you don't depend on me for a thing, and never did. As to Grandma!"-and she looked affectionately at the old lady-"she don't need me nor anybody else. She's independent if ever anybody was. She won't miss me a mite-will you Grandma?" Mrs. Pettigrew looked at her for a moment, the corners of her mouth tucked in tightly. "No," she said, "I shan't miss you a mite!"

Vivian was a little grieved at the prompt acquiescence. She felt nearer to her grandmother in many ways than to either parent. "Well, I'll miss you!" said she, going to her and kissing her smooth pale cheek, "I'll miss you awfully!"

Mr. Lane expressed his disapproval most thoroughly, and more than once; then retired into gloomy silence, alternated with violent dissuasion; but since a woman of twenty-five is certainly free to choose her way of life, and there was no real objection to this change, except that it was a change, and therefore dreaded, his opposition, though unpleasant, was not prohibitive. Vivian's independent fortune of $87.50, the savings of many years, made the step possible, even without his assistance.

There were two weeks of exceeding disagreeableness in the household, but Vivian kept her temper and her determination under a rain of tears, a hail of criticism, and heavy wind of argument and exhortation. All her friends and neighbors, and many who were neither, joined in the effort to dissuade her; but she stood firm as the martyrs of old.

Heredity plays strange tricks with us. Somewhere under the girl's dumb gentleness and patience lay a store of quiet strength from some Pilgrim Father or Mother. Never before had she set her will against her parents; conscience had always told her to submit. Now conscience told her to rebel, and she did. She made her personal arrangements, said goodbye to her friends, declined to discuss with anyone, was sweet and quiet and kind at home, and finally appeared at the appointed hour on the platform of the little station.

Numbers of curious neighbors were there to see them off, all who knew them and could spare the time seemed to be on hand. Vivian's mother came, but her father did not.

At the last moment, just as the train drew in, Grandma appeared, serene and brisk, descending, with an impressive amount of hand baggage, from "the hack."

"Goodbye, Laura," she said. "I think these girls need a chaperon. I'm going too."

So blasting was the astonishment caused by this proclamation, and so short a time remained to express it, that they presently found themselves gliding off in the big Pullman, all staring at one another in silent amazement.

"I hate discussion," said Mrs. Pettigrew.

* * *

None of these ladies were used to traveling, save Dr. Bellair, who had made the cross continent trip often enough to think nothing of it.

The unaccustomed travelers found much excitement in the journey. As women, embarking on a new, and, in the eyes of their friends, highly doubtful enterprise, they had emotion to spare; and to be confronted at the outset by a totally unexpected grandmother was too much for immediate comprehension.

She looked from one to the other, sparkling, triumphant.

"I made up my mind, same as you did, hearing Jane Bellair talk," she explained. "Sounded like good sense. I always wanted to travel, always, and never had the opportunity. This was a real good chance." Her mouth shut, tightened, widened, drew into a crinkly delighted smile.

They sat still staring at her.

"You needn't look at me like that! I guess it's a free country! I bought my ticket-sent for it same as you did. And I didn't have to ask anybody-I'm no daughter. My duty, as far as I know it, is done! This is a pleasure trip!"

She was triumph incarnate.

"And you never said a word!" This from Vivian.

"Not a word. Saved lots of trouble. Take care of me indeed! Laura needn't think I'm dependent on her yet!"

Vivian's heart rather yearned over her mother, thus doubly bereft.

"The truth is," her grandmother went on, "Samuel wants to go to Florida the worst way; I heard 'em talking about it! He wasn't willing to go alone-not he! Wants somebody to hear him cough, I say! And Laura couldn't go-'Mother was so dependent'-Huh!"

Vivian began to smile. She knew this had been talked over, and given up on that account. She herself could have been easily disposed of, but Mrs. Lane chose to think her mother a lifelong charge.

"Act as if I was ninety!" the old lady burst forth again. "I'll show 'em!"

"I think you're dead right, Mrs. Pettigrew," said Dr. Bellair. "Sixty isn't anything. You ought to have twenty years of enjoyable life yet, before they call you 'old'-maybe more."

Mrs. Pettigrew cocked an eye at her. "My grandmother lived to be a hundred and four," said she, "and kept on working up to the last year. I don't know about enjoyin' life, but she was useful for pretty near a solid century. After she broke her hip the last time she sat still and sewed and knitted. After her eyes gave out she took to hooking rugs."

"I hope it will be forty years, Mrs. Pettigrew," said Sue, "and I'm real glad you're coming. It'll make it more like home."

Miss Elder was a little slow in accommodating herself to this new accession. She liked Mrs. Pettigrew very much-but-a grandmother thus airily at large seemed to unsettle the foundations of things. She was polite, even cordial, but evidently found it difficult to accept the facts.

"Besides," said Mrs. Pettigrew, "you may not get all those boarders at once and I'll be one to count on. I stopped at the bank this morning and had 'em arrange for my account out in Carston. They were some surprised, but there was no time to ask questions!" She relapsed into silence and gazed with keen interest at the whirling landscape.

Throughout the journey she proved the best of travelers; was never car-sick, slept well in the joggling berth, enjoyed the food, and continually astonished them by producing from her handbag the most diverse and unlooked for conveniences. An old-fashioned traveller had forgotten her watchkey-Grandma produced an automatic one warranted to fit anything. "Takes up mighty little room-and I thought maybe it would come in handy," she said.

She had a small bottle of liquid court-plaster, and plenty of the solid kind. She had a delectable lotion for the hands, a real treasure on the dusty journey; also a tiny corkscrew, a strong pair of "pinchers," sewing materials, playing cards, string, safety-pins, elastic bands, lime drops, stamped envelopes, smelling salts, troches, needles and thread.

"Did you bring a trunk, Grandma?" asked Vivian.

"Two," said Grandma, "excess baggage. All paid for and checked."

"How did you ever learn to arrange things so well?" Sue asked admiringly.

"Read about it," the old lady answered. "There's no end of directions nowadays. I've been studying up."

She was so gleeful and triumphant, so variously useful, so steadily gay and stimulating, that they all grew to value her presence long before they reached Carston; but they had no conception of the ultimate effect of a resident grandmother in that new and bustling town.

To Vivian the journey was a daily and nightly revelation. She had read much but traveled very little, never at night. The spreading beauty of the land was to her a new stimulus; she watched by the hour the endless panorama fly past her window, its countless shades of green, the brown and red soil, the fleeting dashes of color where wild flowers gathered thickly. She was repeatedly impressed by seeing suddenly beside her the name of some town which had only existed in her mind as "capital city" associated with "principal exports" and "bounded on the north."

At night, sleeping little, she would raise her curtain and look out, sideways, at the stars. Big shadowy trees ran by, steep cuttings rose like a wall of darkness, and the hilly curves of open country rose and fell against the sky line like a shaken carpet.

She faced the long, bright vistas of the car and studied people's faces-such differen

t people from any she had seen before. A heavy young man with small, light eyes, sat near by, and cast frequent glances at both the girls, going by their seat at intervals. Vivian considered this distinctly rude, and Sue did not like his looks, so he got nothing for his pains, yet even this added color to the day.

The strange, new sense of freedom grew in her heart, a feeling of lightness and hope and unfolding purpose.

There was continued discussion as to what the girls should do.

"We can be waitresses for Auntie till we get something else," Sue practically insisted. "The doctor says it will be hard to get good service and I'm sure the boarders would like us."

"You can both find work if you want it. What do you want to do, Vivian?" asked Dr. Bellair, not for the first time.

Vivian was still uncertain.

"I love children best," she said. "I could teach-but I haven't a certificate. I'd love a kindergarten; I've studied that-at home."

"Shouldn't wonder if you could get up a kindergarten right off," the doctor assured her. "Meantime, as this kitten says, you could help Miss Elder out and turn an honest penny while you're waiting."

"Wouldn't it-interfere with my teaching later?" the girl inquired.

"Not a bit, not a bit. We're not so foolish out here. We'll fix you up all right in no time."

It was morning when they arrived at last and came out of the cindery, noisy crowded cars into the wide, clean, brilliant stillness of the high plateau. They drew deep breaths; the doctor squared her shoulders with a glad, homecoming smile. Vivian lifted her head and faced the new surroundings as an unknown world. Grandma gazed all ways, still cheerful, and their baggage accrued about them as a rampart.

A big bearded man, carelessly dressed, whirled up in a dusty runabout, and stepped out smiling. He seized Dr. Bellair by both hands, and shook them warmly.

"Thought I'd catch you, Johnny," he said. "Glad to see you back. If you've got the landlady, I've got the cook!"

"Here we are," said she. "Miss Orella Elder-Dr. Hale; Mrs. Pettigrew, Miss Susie Elder, Miss Lane-Dr. Richard Hale."

He bowed deeply to Mrs. Pettigrew, shook hands with Miss Orella, and addressed himself to her, giving only a cold nod to the two girls, and quite turning away from them.

Susie, in quiet aside to Vivian, made unfavorable comment.

"This is your Western chivalry, is it?" she said. "Even Bainville does better than that."

"I don't know why we should mind," Vivian answered. "It's Dr. Bellair's friend; he don't care anything about us."

But she was rather of Sue's opinion.

The big man took Dr. Bellair in his car, and they followed in a station carriage, eagerly observing their new surroundings, and surprised, as most Easterners are, by the broad beauty of the streets and the modern conveniences everywhere-electric cars, electric lights, telephones, soda fountains, where they had rather expected to find tents and wigwams.

The house, when they were all safely within it, turned out to be "just like a real house," as Sue said; and proved even more attractive than the doctor had described it. It was a big, rambling thing, at home they would have called it a hotel, with its neat little sign, "The Cottonwoods," and Vivian finally concluded that it looked like a seaside boarding house, built for the purpose.

A broad piazza ran all across the front, the door opening into a big square hall, a sort of general sitting-room; on either side were four good rooms, opening on a transverse passage. The long dining-room and kitchen were in the rear of the hall.

Dr. Bellair had two, her office fronting on the side street, with a bedroom behind it. They gave Mrs. Pettigrew the front corner room on that side and kept the one opening from the hall as their own parlor. In the opposite wing was Miss Elder's room next the hall, and the girls in the outer back corner, while the two front ones on that side were kept for the most impressive and high-priced boarders.

Mrs. Pettigrew regarded her apartments with suspicion as being too "easy."

"I don't mind stairs," she said. "Dr. Bellair has to be next her office-but why do I have to be next Dr. Bellair?"

It was represented to her that she would be nearer to everything that went on and she agreed without more words.

Dr. Hale exhibited the house as if he owned it.

"The agent's out of town," he said, "and we don't need him anyway. He said he'd do anything you wanted, in reason."

Dr. Bellair watched with keen interest the effect of her somewhat daring description, as Miss Orella stepped from room to room examining everything with a careful eye, with an expression of growing generalship. Sue fluttered about delightedly, discovering advantages everywhere and making occasional disrespectful remarks to Vivian about Dr. Hale's clothes.

"Looks as if he never saw a clothes brush!" she said. "A finger out on his glove, a button off his coat. No need to tell us there's no woman in his house!"

"You can decide about your cook when you've tried her," he said to Miss Elder. "I engaged her for a week-on trial. She's in the kitchen now, and will have your dinner ready presently. I think you'll like her, if--"

"Good boy!" said Dr. Bellair. "Sometimes you show as much sense as a woman-almost."

"What's the 'if'" asked Miss Orella, looking worried.

"Question of character," he answered. "She's about forty-five, with a boy of sixteen or so. He's not over bright, but a willing worker. She's a good woman-from one standpoint. She won't leave that boy nor give him up to strangers; but she has a past!"

"What is her present?" Dr. Bellair asked, "that's the main thing."

Dr. Hale clapped her approvingly on the shoulder, but looked doubtingly toward Miss Orella.

"And what's her future if somebody don't help her?" Vivian urged.

"Can she cook?" asked Grandma.

"Is she a safe person to have in the house?" inquired Dr. Bellair meaningly.

"She can cook," he replied. "She's French, or of French parentage. She used to keep a little-place of entertainment. The food was excellent. She's been a patient of mine-off and on-for five years-and I should call her perfectly safe."

Miss Orella still looked worried. "I'd like to help her and the boy, but would it-look well? I don't want to be mean about it, but this is a very serious venture with us, Dr. Hale, and I have these girls with me."

"With you and Dr. Bellair and Mrs. Pettigrew the young ladies will be quite safe, Miss Elder. As to the woman's present character, she has suffered two changes of heart, she's become a religious devotee-and a man-hater! And from a business point of view, I assure you that if Jeanne Jeaune is in your kitchen you'll never have a room empty."

"Johnny Jones! queer name for a woman!" said Grandma. They repeated it to her carefully, but she only changed to "Jennie June," and adhered to one or the other, thereafter. "What's the boy's name?" she asked further.

"Theophile," Dr. Hale replied.

"Huh!" said she.

"Why don't she keep an eating-house still?" asked Dr. Bellair rather suspiciously.

"That's what I like best about her," he answered. "She is trying to break altogether with her past. She wants to give up 'public life'-and private life won't have her."

They decided to try the experiment, and found it worked well.

There were two bedrooms over the kitchen where "Mrs. Jones" as Grandma generally called her, and her boy, could be quite comfortable and by themselves; and although of a somewhat sour and unsociable aspect, and fiercely watchful lest anyone offend her son, this questionable character proved an unquestionable advantage. With the boy's help, she cooked for the houseful, which grew to be a family of twenty-five. He also wiped dishes, helped in the laundry work, cleaned and scrubbed and carried coal; and Miss Elder, seeing his steady usefulness, insisted on paying wages for him too. This unlooked for praise and gain won the mother's heart, and as she grew more at home with them, and he less timid, she encouraged him to do the heavier cleaning in the rest of the house.

"Huh!" said Grandma. "I wish more sane and moral persons would work like that!"

Vivian watched with amazement the swift filling of the house.

There was no trouble at all about boarders, except in discriminating among them. "Make them pay in advance, Rella," Dr. Bellair advised, "it doesn't cost them any more, and it is a great convenience. 'References exchanged,' of course. There are a good many here that I know-you can always count on Mr. Dykeman and Fordham Grier, and John Unwin."

Before a month was over the place was full to its limits with what Sue called "assorted boarders," the work ran smoothly and the business end of Miss Elder's venture seemed quite safe. They had the twenty Dr. Bellair prophesied, and except for her, Mrs. Pettigrew, Miss Peeder, a teacher of dancing and music; Mrs. Jocelyn, who was interested in mining, and Sarah Hart, who described herself as a "journalist," all were men.

Fifteen men to eight women. Miss Elder sat at the head of her table, looked down it and across the other one, and marvelled continuously. Never in her New England life had she been with so many men-except in church-and they were more scattered. This houseful of heavy feet and broad shoulders, these deep voices and loud laughs, the atmosphere of interchanging jests and tobacco smoke, was new to her. She hated the tobacco smoke, but that could not be helped. They did not smoke in her parlor, but the house was full of it none the less, in which constant presence she began to reverse the Irishman's well known judgment of whiskey, allowing that while all tobacco was bad, some tobacco was much worse than others.

* * *

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

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares