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- The Whole Family - 1/38 -
Title: The Whole Family, A Novel by Twelve Authors
Authors: William Dean Howells, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Mary Heaton Vorse, Mary Stewart Cutting, Elizabeth Jordan, John Kendrick Bangs, Henry James, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Edith Wyatt, Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews, Alice Brown, Henry Van Dyke
Etext prepared by Dianne Bean, Prescott Valley, Arizona.
THE WHOLE FAMILY
I. The Father by William Dean Howells II. The Old-Maid Aunt by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman III. The Grandmother by Mary Heaton Vorse IV. The Daughter-in-Law by Mary Stewart Cutting V. The School-Girl by Elizabeth Jordan VI. The Son-in-Law by John Kendrick Bangs VII. The Married Son by Henry James VIII.The Married Daughter by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps IX. The Mother by Edith Wyatt X. The School-Boy by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews XI. Peggy by Alice Brown XII. The Friend of the Family by Henry Van Dyke
THE WHOLE FAMILY
I. THE FATHER
by William Dean Howells
As soon as we heard the pleasant news--I suppose the news of an engagement ought always to be called pleasant--it was decided that I ought to speak first about it, and speak to the father. We had not been a great while in the neighborhood, and it would look less like a bid for the familiar acquaintance of people living on a larger scale than ourselves, and less of an opening for our own intimacy if they turned out to be not quite so desirable in other ways as they were in the worldly way. For the ladies of the respective families first to offer and receive congratulations would be very much more committing on both sides; at the same time, to avoid the appearance of stiffness, some one ought to speak, and speak promptly. The news had not come to us directly from our neighbors, but authoritatively from a friend of theirs, who was also a friend of ours, and we could not very well hold back. So, in the cool of the early evening, when I had quite finished rasping my lawn with the new mower, I left it at the end of the swath, which had brought me near the fence, and said across it,
My neighbor turned from making his man pour a pail of water on the earth round a freshly planted tree, and said, "Oh, good-evening! How d'ye do? Glad to see you!" and offered his hand over the low coping so cordially that I felt warranted in holding it a moment.
"I hope it's in order for me to say how very much my wife and I are interested in the news we've heard about one of your daughters? May I offer our best wishes for her happiness?"
"Oh, thank you," my neighbor said. "You're very good indeed. Yes, it's rather exciting--for us. I guess that's all for to-night, Al," he said, in dismissal of his man, before turning to lay his arms comfortably on the fence top. Then he laughed, before he added, to me, "And rather surprising, too."
"Those things are always rather surprising, aren't they?" I suggested.
"Well, yes, I suppose they are. It oughtn't be so in our case, though, as we've been through it twice before: once with my son--he oughtn't to have counted, but he did--and once with my eldest daughter. Yes, you might say you never do quite expect it, though everybody else does. Then, in this case, she was the baby so long, that we always thought of her as a little girl. Yes, she's kept on being the pet, I guess, and we couldn't realize what was in the air."
I had thought, from the first sight of him, that there was something very charming in my neighbor's looks. He had a large, round head, which had once been red, but was now a russet silvered, and was not too large for his manly frame, swaying amply outward, but not too amply, at the girth. He had blue, kind eyes, and a face fully freckled, and the girl he was speaking of with a tenderness in his tones rather than his words, was a young feminine copy of him; only, her head was little, under its load of red hair, and her figure, which we had lately noticed flitting in and out, as with a shy consciousness of being stared at on account of her engagement, was as light as his was heavy on its feet.
I said, "Naturally," and he seemed glad of the chance to laugh again.
"Well, of course! And her being away at school made it all the more so. If we'd had her under our eye, here--Well, we shouldn't have had her under our eye if she had BEEN here; or if we had, we shouldn't have seen what was going on; at least _I_ shouldn't; maybe her mother would. So it's just as well it happened as it did happen, I guess. We shouldn't have been any the wiser if we'd known all about it." I joined him in his laugh at his paradox, and he began again. "What's that about being the unexpected that happens? I guess what happens is what ought to have been expected. We might have known when we let her go to a coeducational college that we were taking a risk of losing her; but we lost our other daughter that way, and SHE never went to ANY kind of college. I guess we counted the chances before we let her go. What's the use? Of course we did, and I remember saying to my wife, who's more anxious than I am about most things--women are, I guess--that if the worst came to the worst, it might not be such a bad thing. I always thought it wasn't such an objectionable feature, in the coeducational system, if the young people did get acquainted under it, and maybe so well acquainted that they didn't want to part enemies in the end. I said to my wife that I didn't see how, if a girl was going to get married, she could have a better basis than knowing the fellow through three or four years' hard work together. When you think of the sort of hit-or-miss affairs most marriages are that young people make after a few parties and picnics, coeducation as a preliminary to domestic happiness doesn't seem a bad notion."
"There's something in what you say," I assented.
"Of course there is," my neighbor insisted. "I couldn't help laughing, though," and he laughed, as if to show how helpless he had been, "at what my wife said. She said she guessed if it came to that they would get to know more of each other's looks than they did of their minds. She had me there, but I don't think my girl has made out so very poorly even as far as books are concerned."
Upon this invitation to praise her, I ventured to say, "A young lady of Miss Talbert's looks doesn't need much help from books."
I could see that what I had said pleased him to the core, though he put on a frown of disclaimer in replying, "I don't know about her looks. She's a GOOD girl, though, and that's the main thing, I guess."
"For her father, yes, but other people don't mind her being pretty," I persisted. "My wife says when Miss Talbert comes out into the garden, the other flowers have no chance."
"Good for Mrs. Temple!" my neighbor shouted, joyously giving himself away.
I have always noticed that when you praise a girl's beauty to her father, though he makes a point of turning it off in the direction of her goodness, he likes so well to believe she is pretty that he cannot hold out against any persistence in the admirer of her beauty. My neighbor now said with the effect of tasting a peculiar sweetness in my words, "I guess I shall have to tell my wife, that." Then he added, with a rush of hospitality, "Won't you come in and tell her yourself?"
"Not now, thank you. It's about our tea-time."
"Glad it isn't your DINNER-time!" he said, heartily.
"Well, yes. We don't see the sense of dining late in a place like this. The fact is, we're both village-bred, and we like the mid-day dinner. We make rather a high tea, though."
"So do we. I always want a dish of something hot. My wife thinks cake is light, but I think meat is."
"Well, cake is the New England superstition," I observed. "And I suppose York State, too."
"Yes, more than pie is," he agreed. "For supper, anyway. You may have pie at any or all of the three meals, but you have GOT to have cake at tea, if you are anybody at all. In the place where my wife lived, a woman's social standing was measured by the number of kinds of cake she had."
We laughed at that, too, and then there came a little interval and I said, "Your place is looking fine."
He turned his head and gave it a comprehensive stare. "Yes, it is," he admitted. "They tell me it's an ugly old house, and I guess if my girls, counting my daughter-in-law, had their way, they would have that French roof off, and something Georgian--that's what they call it--on, about as quick as the carpenter could do it. They want a kind of classic front, with pillars and a pediment; or more the Mount Vernon style, body yellow, with white trim. They call it Georgian after Washington?" This was obviously a joke.
"No, I believe it was another George, or four others. But I don't wonder you want to keep your house as it is. It expresses something characteristic." I saved myself by forbearing to say it was handsome. It was, in fact, a vast, gray-green wooden edifice, with a mansard-roof cut up into many angles, tipped at the gables with rockets and finials, and with a square tower in front, ending in a sort of lookout at the top, with a fence of iron filigree round it. The taste of 1875 could not go further; it must have cost a heap of money in the depreciated paper of the day.
I suggested something of the kind to my neighbor, and he laughed. "I guess it cost all we had at the time. We had been saving along up, and in those days it used to be thought that the best investment you could
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