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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Two - Chapter 20
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Together - Part Two - Chapter 20 Post by :hlpunltd Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :3051

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Together - Part Two - Chapter 20


"What makes a happy marriage?" Rob Falkner queried in his brutal and ironical mood, which made his wife shiver for the proprieties of pleasant society. It was at one of Bessie's famous Torso suppers, when the Lanes and Darnells were present.

"A good cook and a good provider," Lane suggested pleasantly, to keep the topic off conversational reefs.

"A husband who thinks everything you do just right!" sighed Bessie.

"Plenty of money and a few children--for appearances," some one threw in.

Isabelle remarked sagely, "A husband who knows what is best for you in the big things, and a wife who does what is best in the small ones."

"Unity of Purpose--Unity of Souls," Tom Darnell announced in his oratorical voice, with an earnestness that made the party self-conscious. His wife said nothing, and Falkner summed up cynically:--

"You've won, Lane! The American husband must be a good provider, but it doesn't follow that the wife must be a good cook. Say a good entertainer, and there you have a complete formula of matrimony: PROVIDER (Hustler, Money-getter, Liberal) and ENTERTAINER (A woman pretty, charming, social)."

"Here's to the Falkner household,--the perfect example!"

Thus the talk drifted off with a laugh into a discussion of masculine deficiencies and feminine endurances. Isabelle, looking back with the experience of after years, remembered this "puppy-dog" conversation. How young they all were and how they played with ideas! Bessie, also, remembered the occasion, with an injured feeling. On the way home that night Lane had remarked to his wife:--

"Falkner is a queer chap,--he was too personal to-night."

"I suppose it is hard on him; Bessie is rather wilful and extravagant. He looked badly to-night. And he told me he had to take an early train to examine some new work."

Lane shrugged his shoulders, as does the man of imperturbable will, perfect digestion, and constant equilibrium, for the troubles of a weaker vessel.

"If he doesn't like what his wife does, he should have character enough to control her. Besides he should have known all that before he married!"

Isabelle smiled at this piece of masculine complacency,--as if a man could know any essential fact about a woman from the way she did her hair to the way she spent money before he had lived with her!

"I do hope he will get a better place," Isabelle remarked good-naturedly. "It would do them both so much good."

As we have seen, Falkner's chance came at last through Lane, who recommended him to the A. and P. engineer in charge of the great terminal works that the road had undertaken in St. Louis. The salary of the new position was four thousand dollars a year,--a very considerable advance over the Torso position, and the work gave Falkner an opportunity such as he had never had before. The railroad system had other large projects in contemplation also.

"Bessie has written me such a letter,--the child!" Isabelle told her husband. "You would think they had inherited a million. And yet she seems sad to leave Torso, after all the ragging she gave the place. She has a good word to say even for Mrs. Fraser!"

Bessie Falkner was one of those who put down many small roots wherever chance places them. She had settled into Torso more solidly than she knew until she came to pull up her roots and put them down in a large, strange city. "We won't know any one there," she said dolefully to her Torso friends. "The Lanes, of course; but they are such grand folk now--and Isabella has all her old friends about her." Nevertheless, it scarcely entered her mind to remain "in this prairie village all our days." Bessie had to the full the American ambition to move on and up as far as possible....

Fortune, having turned its attention to the Falkners, seemed determined to smile on them this year. An uncle of Bessie's died on his lonely ranch in Wyoming, and when the infrequent local authorities got around to settling his affairs, they found that he had left his little estate to Elizabeth Bissell, who was now Mrs. Robert Falkner of Torso. The lonely old rancher, it seemed, had remembered the pretty, vivacious blond girl of eighteen, who had taken the trouble to show him the sights of Denver the one time he had visited his sister ten years before. Bessie, amused at his eccentric appearance, had tried to give "Uncle Billy" a good time. "Uncle Billy," she would say, "you must do this,--you will remember it all your life. Uncle Billy, won't you lunch with me down town to-day? You must go to the theatre, while you are here. Uncle, I am going to make you a necktie!" So she had chirped from morning until night, flattering, coaxing, and also making sport of the old man. "Bess has a good heart," her mother said to Uncle Bill, and it must be added Bessie also had a woman's instinct to please a possible benefactor. Uncle Billy when he returned to the lonely ranch wrote a letter to his pretty niece, which Bessie neglected to answer. Nevertheless, when Uncle Billy made ready to die, he bestowed all that he had to give upon the girl who had smiled on him once.

Thus Bessie's purring good nature bore fruit, Before the property could be sold, the most imaginative ideas about her inheritance filled Bessie's dreams. Day and night she planned what they would do with this fortune,--everything from a year in Europe to new dresses for the children! When it came finally in the form of a draft for thirteen thousand and some odd dollars, her visions were dampened for a time,--so many of her castles could not be acquired for thirteen thousand and some odd dollars.

Falkner was for investing the legacy in Freke's mines, which, he had good reason to believe, were better than gold mines. But when Bessie learned that the annual dividends would only be about twelve hundred dollars, she demurred. That was too slow. Secretly she thought that "if Rob were only clever about money," he might in a few years make a real fortune out of this capital. There were men she had known in Denver, as she told her husband, "who hadn't half of that and who had bought mines that had brought them hundreds of thousands of dollars." To which remark, Rob had replied curtly that he was not in that sort of business and that there were many more suckers than millionnaires in Denver--and elsewhere.

So, finally, after paying some Torso debts, it came down to buying a house in St. Louis; for the flat that they had first rented was crowded and Bessie found great difficulty in keeping a servant longer than a week. Rob thought that it would be more prudent to rent a house for six to nine hundred than to buy outright or build, until they saw how his work for the A. and P. developed. But Bessie wanted a home,--a house of her own. So they began the wearisome search for a house. Bessie already had her views about the desirable section to live in,--outside the smoke in one of "those private estate parks,"--where the Lanes were thinking of settling. (A few months had been sufficient for Bessie to orientate herself socially in her new surroundings.) "That's where all the nice young people are going," she announced. In vain Rob pointed out that there were no houses to be bought for less than eighteen thousand in this fashionable neighborhood. "You never dare!" she retorted reproachfully. "You have to take risks if you want anything in this world! How many houses in St. Louis that aren't mortgaged do you suppose there are?"

"But there is only about eleven thousand of Uncle Billy's money left, and those houses in Buena Vista Park cost from eighteen to twenty-four thousand dollars."

"And they have only one bath-room," sighed Bessie.

The summer went by in "looking," and the more houses they looked at the less satisfied was Bessie. She had in the foreground of her mind an image of the Lanes' Torso house, only "more artistic"; but Falkner convinced her that such a house in St. Louis would cost thirty thousand dollars at the present cost of building materials.

"It is so difficult," she explained to Mrs. Price, "to find anything small and your own, don't you know?" She arched her brows prettily over her dilemma. Mrs. Price, who, in spite of the fascination that Bessie exerted, had prim ideas "of what young persons in moderate circumstances" should do, suggested that the Johnstons were buying a very good house in the new suburb of Bryn Mawr on the installment plan.

"As if we could bury ourselves in that swamp,--we might as well stay in Torso!" Bessie said to her husband disgustedly.

Falkner reflected that the train service to Bryn Mawr made it easier of access to his work than the newer residential quarter inside the city which Bessie was considering. But that was the kind of remark he had learned not to make....

In the end it came to their building. For Bessie found nothing "small and pretty, and just her own," with three bath-rooms, two maids' rooms, etc., in any "possible" neighborhood. She had met at a dinner-party an attractive young architect, who had recently come from the East to settle in St. Louis. Mr. Bowles prepared some water-color sketches which were so pretty that she decided to engage him. With misgivings Rob gave his consent. A narrow strip of frontage was found next a large house in the desired section. They had to pay three thousand dollars for the strip of land. Mr. Bowles thought the house could be built for eight or ten thousand dollars, depending on the price of materials, which seemed to be going up with astonishing rapidity.

Then Bessie plunged into plans. It was a gusty March day when the Falkners went out with the architect to consider the lot, and spent an afternoon trying to decide how to secure the most sun. Falkner, weary of the whole matter, listened to the glib young architect. Another windy day in April they returned to the lot to look at the excavation. The contracts were not yet signed. Lumber had gone soaring, and there was a strike in the brick business, the kind of brick they had chosen being unobtainable, while hardware seemed unaccountably precious. Already it was impossible to build the house for less than twelve thousand, even after sacrificing Bessie's private bath. Falkner had consented to the mortgage,--"only four thousand," Bessie said; "we'll save our rent and pay it off in a year or two!" Bessie's periods of economy were always just dawning!

Falkner, looking at the contractor's tool shed, had a sense of depressing fatality. From the moment that the first spadeful of ground had been dug, it seemed to him that the foundation of his domestic peace had begun to crumble. But this depression was only an attack of the grippe, he said to himself, and he tried to take an interest in the architect's description of how they should terrace the front of the lot....

Of course, as the novelists tell us, the man of Strong Will, of Mature Character, of Determined Purpose, would not have allowed his wife to entangle him in this house business (or in matrimony, perhaps, in the first instance)! But if society were composed of men of S. W., M. C., and D. P., there would be no real novels,--merely epics of Slaughter and Success, of Passionate Love and Heroic Accomplishment.... At this period Falkner still loved his wife,--wanted to give her every gratification within his power, and some just beyond,--though that love had been strained by five hard years, when her efforts as an economic partner had not been intelligent. (Bessie would have scorned such an unromantic term as "economic partner.") They still had their times of amiable understanding, of pleasant comradeship, even of passionate endearment. But by the time the young architect's creation at number 26 Buena Vista Pleasance had become their residence, that love was in a moribund condition.... Yet after all, as Bessie sometimes reminded him, it was her money that was building the house, at least the larger part of it; and further it was all her life that was to be spent in it, presumably. The woman's home was her world.

Thus, in the division that had come between them, the man began to consider his wife's rights, what he owed to her as a woman that he had taken under his protection,--a very dangerous state of mind in matrimony. If he had discovered that her conception of the desirable end of life was not his, he must respect her individuality, and so far as possible provide for her that which she seemed to need. The faithful husband, or dray-horse interpretation of marriage, this.

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PART TWO CHAPTER XIXThe Virginia mountains made a narrow horizon of brilliant blue. On their lower slopes the misty outlines of early spring had begun with the budding trees. Here and there the feathery forest was spotted by dashes of pink coolness where the wild peach and plum had blossomed, and the faint blue of the rhododendron bushes mounted to the sky-line. The morning was brilliant after a rain and the fresh mountain air blew invigoratingly, as Isabelle left the car on her husband's arm. With the quick change of mood of the nervous invalid she already felt stronger, more hopeful.