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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Two - Chapter 21
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Together - Part Two - Chapter 21 Post by :hlpunltd Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :2914

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Together - Part Two - Chapter 21


If it takes Strong Will, Mature Character, and Determined Purpose to live effectively, it takes all of that and more--humor and patience--to build a house in America, unless one can afford to order his habitation as he does a suit of clothes and spend the season in Europe until the contractor and the architect have fought it out between them. But Bessie was a young woman of visions. She had improved all her opportunities to acquire taste,--the young architect said she had "very intelligent ideas." And he, Bertram Bowles, fresh from Paris, with haunting memories of chateaux and villas, and a knowledge of what the leading young architects of the East were turning out, had visions too, in carrying out this first real commission that he had received in St. Louis. "Something _chic_, with his stamp on it," he said....

The hours with the contractors to persuade them that they could do something they had never seen done before! The debates over wood finish, and lumber going up while you talked! The intricacies of heating, plumbing, electric lighting, and house telephones--when all men are discovered to be liars! Falkner thought it would be easier to lay out the entire terminal system of the A. and P. than to build one "small house, pretty and just your own, you know." Occasionally even Bessie and the polite Bertram Bowles fell out, when Falkner was called in to arbitrate. Before the question of interior decoration came up the house had already cost fourteen thousand dollars, which would necessitate a mortgage of six thousand dollars at once. Here Falkner put his foot down,--no more; they would live in it with bare walls. Bessie pleaded and sulked,--"only another thousand." And "not to be perfectly ridiculous," Falkner was forced to concede another thousand. "Not much when you consider," as the architect said to Bessie.... Time dragged on, and the house was not ready. The apartment hotel into which they had moved was expensive and bad for the children. In June Falkner insisted on moving into the unfinished house, with carpenters, painters, decorators still hanging on through the sultry summer months.

"I met your poor little friend Mrs. Falkner at Sneeson's this morning," Nan Lawton said to Isabelle. "She was looking over hangings and curtains for her house.... She is nothing but a bag of bones, she's so worn. That husband of hers must be a brute to let her wear herself all out. She was telling me some long yarn about their troubles with the gas men,--very amusing and bright. She is a charming little thing."

"Yes," Isabelle replied; "I am afraid the house has been too much for them both."

She had been Bessie's confidant in all her troubles, and sympathized--who could not sympathize with Bessie?--though she thought her rather foolish to undertake so much.

"We'll simply have to have rugs, I tell Rob," Bessie said to her. "He is in such bad humor these days, and says we must go on the bare floors or use the old Torso carpets. Fancy!"

And Isabelle said, as she was expected to say, "Of course you will have to have rugs. They are having a sale at Moritz's,--some beauties and cheap."

Yet she had a sneaking sympathy for Falkner. Isabelle did not suspect that she herself was the chief undoing of the Falkner household, nor did any one else suspect it. It was Bessie's ideal of Isabelle that rode her hard from the beginning of her acquaintance with the Lanes. And it was Isabelle who very naturally introduced them to most of the people they had come to know in their new world. Isabelle herself had much of her mother's thrift and her father's sagacity in practical matters. She would never have done what Bessie was doing in Bessie's circumstances. But in her own circumstances she did unconsciously a great deal more,--and she disliked to fill her mind with money matters, considering it vulgar and underbred to dwell long on them. The rich and the very wise can indulge in these aristocratic refinements! Isabelle, to be sure, felt flattered by Bessie's admiring discipleship,--who does not like to lead a friend? She never dreamed of her evil influence. The power of suggestion, subtle, far-reaching, ever working on plastic human souls! Society evolves out of these petty reactions....

The rugs came.

"We simply have to have rugs,--the house calls for it," asserted Bessie, using one of Mr. Bertram Bowles's favorite expressions.

"My purse doesn't," growled Falkner.

Nevertheless Bessie selected some pretty cheap rugs at Moritz's, which could be had on credit. In the great rug room of the department store she met Alice Johnston, who was looking at a drugget. The two women exchanged experiences as the perspiring clerks rolled and rerolled rugs.

"Yes, we shall like Bryn Mawr," Mrs. Johnston said, "now that the foliage covers up the tin cans and real estate signs. The schools are really very good, and there is plenty of room for the boys to make rough house in. We are to have a garden another year.... Oh, yes, it is rural middle class,--that's why I can get drugget for the halls."

Bessie thought of her pretty house and shuddered.

"We are planning to call and see the house--Isabelle says it's wonderful--but it will have to be on a Sunday--the distance--"

"Can't you come next Sunday for luncheon? I will ask Isabelle and her husband," Bessie interrupted hospitably, proud to show off her new toy.

And on Sunday they all had a very good time and the new "toy" was much admired, although the paint was still sticky,--the painter had been optimistic when he took the contract and had tried to save himself later,--the colors wrong, and the furniture, which had done well enough in Torso, looked decidedly shabby.

"It's the prettiest house I know," Isabelle said warmly, and Bessie felt repaid.

She was very tired, and to-day looked worn. The new toy was dragging her out. As the long St. Louis summer drew to an end, she was always tired. Some obscure woman's trouble, something in the delicate organism that had never been quite right, was becoming acutely wrong. She lived in fear of having another child,--the last baby had died. By the new year she was in care of Isabelle's specialist, who advised an operation. When that was over, it was nearly spring, and though she was still delicate, she wished to give some dinners "to return their obligations." Falkner objected for many reasons, and she thought him very hard.

"It is always sickness and babies for me," she pouted; "and when I want a little fun, you think we can't afford it or something."

Her hospitable heart was so bent on this project, it seemed so natural that she should desire to show off her toy, after her struggle for it, so innocent "to have our friends about us," that he yielded in part. A good deal might be told about that dinner, from an economic, a social, a domestic point of view. But we must lose it and hasten on. Imagine merely, what a charming woman like Bessie Falkner, whose scheme of the universe was founded on the giving of "pleasant little dinners," would do,--a woman who was making her life, building her wigwam, filling it with those she wished to have as friends, and you will see it all. It was, of course, a great success. Mrs. Anstruthers Leason said of the hostess (reported by Nan Lawton through Isabelle), "Little Mrs. Falkner has the real social gift,--a very rare thing among our women!" And when an invitation came from Mrs. Anstruthers Leason to dinner and her box at the French opera, Bessie was sure that she had found her sphere.

* * * * *

Falkner seemed to Bessie these days to be growing harder,--he was "exacting," "unsympathetic," "tyrannical." "He won't go places, and he won't have people,--isn't nice to them, even in his own house," Bessie said sadly to Isabelle. "I suppose that marriage usually comes to that: the wife stands for bills and trouble, and the husband scolds. Most people squabble, don't they?"

"Of course he loves you, dear," Isabelle consoled her. "American husbands always take their wives for granted, as Nannie says. A foreigner pays attentions to his wife after marriage that our husbands don't think are necessary once they have us. Our husbands take us too much as a matter of course,--and pay the bills!"

Bessie felt and said that Rob took life too hard, worried too much. After all, when a man married a woman and had children, he must expect a certain amount of trouble and anxiety. She wasn't sure but that wives were needed to keep men spurred to their highest pitch of working efficiency. She had an obscure idea that the male was by nature lazy and self-indulgent, and required the steel prod of necessity to do his best work. As she looked about her among the struggling households, it seemed such was the rule,--that if it weren't for the fact of wife and children and bills, the men would deteriorate.... Naturally there were differences,--"squabbles," as she called them; but she would have been horrified if any one had suggested that these petty squabbles, the state of mind they produced or indicated, were infinitely more degrading, more deteriorating to them both, than adultery. It never entered her mind that either she or her husband could be unfaithful, that Falkner could ever care for any other woman than her. "Why, we married for love!"

* * * * *

Love! That divine unreason of the gods, which lures man as a universal solvent of his sorrow, the great solution to the great enigma! Where was it? Bessie asked when Rob passed her door in the morning on his way to his solitary breakfast without a word of greeting or a kiss, and finally left the house without remembering to go upstairs again. And Falkner asked himself much the same thing, when Bessie persisted in doing certain things "because everybody does," or when he realized that after two years in his new position, with a five hundred dollars' increase in his salary the second year, he was nearly a thousand dollars in debt, and losing steadily each quarter. Something must be done--and by him!--for in marriage, he perceived with a certain bitterness, Man was the Forager, the Provider. And in America if he didn't bring in enough from the day's hunt to satisfy the charming squaw that he had made his consort, why,--he must trudge forth again and get it! A poor hunter does not deserve the embellishment of a Bessie and two pretty children.

So he went forth to bring in more game, and he read no poetry these days.

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PART TWO CHAPTER XXIIThe calm male observer might marvel at Bessie's elation over the prospect of sitting in Mrs. Anstruthers Leason's box at the performance of "Faust" given by the French Opera Company on tour. But no candid woman will. It could be explained partly by the natural desire to associate with entertaining, well-dressed folk, who were generally considered to be "the best," "the leaders" of local society. Sitting there in the stuffy box, which was a poor place for seeing or hearing, Bessie felt the satisfaction of being in the right company. She had discovered in one of the serried

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Together - Part Two - Chapter 20
PART TWO CHAPTER XX"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