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- The Whole Family - 2/38 -


make was to put your money in a house of your own. That's what we did, anyway. I had just got to be superintendent of the Works, and I don't say but what we felt my position a little. Well, we felt it more than we did when I got to be owner." He laughed in good-humored self-satire. "My wife used to say we wanted a large house so as to have it big enough to hold me, when I was feeling my best, and we built the largest we could for all the money we had. She had a plan of her own, which she took partly from the house of a girl friend of hers where she had been visiting, and we got a builder to carry out her idea. We did have some talk about an architect, but the builder said he didn't want any architect bothering around HIM, and I don't know as SHE did, either. Her idea was plenty of chambers and plenty of room in them, and two big parlors one side of the front door, and a library and dining-room on the other; kitchen in the L part, and girl's room over that; wide front hall, and black-walnut finish all through the first floor. It was considered the best house at the time in Eastridge, and I guess it was. But now, I don't say but what it's old-fashioned. I have to own up to that with the girls, but I tell them so are we, and that seems to make it all right for a while. I guess we sha'n't change."

He continued to stare at the simple-hearted edifice, so simple-hearted in its out-dated pretentiousness, and then he turned and leaned over the top of the fence where he had left his arms lying, while contemplating the early monument of his success. In making my journalistic study, more or less involuntary, of Eastridge, I had put him down as materially the first man of the place; I might have gone farther and put him down as the first man intellectually. We folk who have to do more constantly with reading and writing are apt to think that the other folk who have more to do with making and marketing have not so much mind, but I fancy we make a mistake in that now and then. It is only another kind of mind which they have quite as much of as we have of ours. It was intellectual force that built up the Plated-Ware Works of Eastridge, where there was no other reason for their being, and it was mental grip that held constantly to the management, and finally grasped the ownership. Nobody ever said that Talbert had come unfairly into that, or that he had misused his money in buying men after he began to come into it in quantity. He was felt in a great many ways, though he made something of a point of not being prominent in politics, after being president of the village two terms. The minister of his church was certainly such a preacher as he liked; and nothing was done in the church society without him; he gave the town a library building, and a soldier's monument; he was foremost in getting the water brought in, which was natural enough since he needed it the most; he took a great interest in school matters, and had a fight to keep himself off the board of education; he went into his pocket for village improvements whenever he was asked, and he was the chief contributor to the public fountain under the big elm. If he carefully, or even jealously guarded his own interests, and held the leading law firm in the hollow of his hand, he was not oppressive, to the general knowledge. He was a despot, perhaps, but he was Blackstone's ideal of the head of a state, a good despot. In all his family relations he was of the exemplary perfection which most other men attain only on their tombstones, and I had found him the best of neighbors. There were some shadows of diffidence between the ladies of our families, mainly on the part of my wife, but none between Talbert and me. He showed me, as a newspaper man with ideals if not abilities rather above the average, a deference which pleased my wife, even more than me.

It was the married daughter whom she most feared might, if occasion offered, give herself more consequence than her due. She had tried to rule her own family while in her father's house, and now though she had a house of her own, my wife believed that she had not wholly relinquished her dominion there. Her husband was the junior member of the law firm which Talbert kept in his pay, to the exclusion of most other clients, and he was a very good fellow, so far as I knew, with the modern conception of his profession which, in our smaller towns and cities, has resulted in corporation lawyers and criminal lawyers, and has left to a few aging attorneys the faded traditions and the scanty affairs of the profession. My wife does not mind his standing somewhat in awe of his father-in-law, but she thinks poorly of his spirit in relation to that managing girl he has married. Talbert's son is in the business with him, and will probably succeed him in it; but it is well known in the place that he will never be the man his father is, not merely on account of his college education, but also on account of the easy temperament, which if he had indulged it to the full would have left him no better than some kind of artist. As it is, he seems to leave all the push to his father; he still does some sketching outside, and putters over the aesthetic details in the business, the new designs for the plated ware, and the illustrated catalogues which the house publishes every year; I am in hopes that we shall get the printing, after we have got the facilities. It would be all right with the young man in the opinion of his censors if he had married a different kind of woman, but young Mrs. Talbert is popularly held just such another as her husband, and easy-going to the last degree. She was two or three years at the Art Students' League, and it was there that her husband met her before they both decided to give up painting and get married.

The two youngest children, or the fall chickens as they are called in recognition of the wide interval between their ages and those of the other children, are probably of the indeterminate character proper to their years. We think the girl rather inclines to a hauteur based upon the general neglect of that quality in the family, where even the eldest sister is too much engaged in ruling to have much force left for snubbing. The child carries herself with a vague loftiness, which has apparently not awaited the moment of long skirts for keeping pretenders to her favor at a distance. In the default of other impertinents to keep in abeyance we fancy that she exercises her gift upon her younger brother, who, so far as we have been able to note, is of a disposition which would be entirely sweet if it were not for the exasperations he suffers from her. I like to put myself in his place, and to hold that he believes himself a better judge than she of the sort of companions he chooses, she being disabled by the mental constitution of her sex, and the defects of a girl's training, from knowing the rare quality of boys who present themselves even to my friendly eyes as dirty, and, when not patched, ragged. I please myself in my guesses at her character with the conjecture that she is not satisfied with her sister's engagement to a fellow-student in a co-educational college, who is looking forward to a professorship.

In spite of her injustice in regard to his own companions, this imaginable attitude of hers impresses the boy, if I understand boys. I have no doubt he reasons that she must be right about something, and as she is never right about boys, she must be right about brothers-in-law, potential if not actual. This one may be, for all the boy knows, a sissy; he inclines to believe, from what he understands of the matter, that he is indeed a sissy, or he would never have gone to a college where half the students are girls. He himself, as I have heard, intends to go to a college, but whether Harvard, or Bryant's Business College, he has not yet decided. One thing he does know, though, and that is there are not going to be any girls in it. We have not allowed our invention so great play in regard to the elder members of our neighbor's family perhaps because we really know something more about them. Mrs. Talbert duly called after We came to Eastridge, and when my wife had self-respectfully waited a proper time, which she made a little more than a week lest she should feel that she had been too eager for the acquaintance, she returned the call. Then she met not only Mrs. Talbert, but Mrs. Talbert's mother, who lives with them, in an anxiety for their health which would impair her own if she were not of a constitution such as you do not find in these days of unladylike athletics. She was inclined to be rather strict with my wife about her own health, and mine too, and told her she must be careful not to let me work too hard, or overeat, or leave off my flannels before the weather was settled in the spring. She said she had heard that I had left a very good position on a Buffalo paper when I bought the Eastridge Banner, and that the town ought to feel very much honored. My wife suppressed her conviction that this was the correct view of the case, in a deprecatory expression of our happiness in finding ourselves in Eastridge, and our entire satisfaction with our prospects and surroundings. Then Mrs. Talbert's mother inquired, as delicately as possible, what denominations, religious and medical, we were of, how many children we had, and whether mostly boys or girls, and where and how long we had been married. She was glad, she said, that we had taken the place next them, after our brief sojourn in the furnished house where we had first lived, and said that there was only one objection to the locality, which was the prevalence of moths; they obliged you to put away your things in naphtha-balls almost the moment the spring opened. She wished to know what books my wife was presently reading, and whether she approved of women's clubs to the extent that they were carried to in some places. She believed in book clubs, but to her mind it was very questionable whether the time that ladies gave to writing papers on so many different subjects was well spent. She thought it a pity that so many things were canned, nowadays, and so well canned that the old arts of pickling and preserving were almost entirely lost. In the conversation, where she bore a leading part as long as she remained in the room, her mind took a wide range, and visited more human interests than my wife was at first able to mention, though afterward she remembered so many that I formed the notion of something encyclopedic in its compass. When she reached the letter Z, she rose and took leave of my wife, saying that now she must go and lie down, as it appeared to be her invariable custom to do (in behalf of the robust health which she had inherited unimpaired from a New England ancestry), at exactly half-past four every afternoon. It was this, she said, more than any one thing that enabled her to go through so much as she did; but through the door which she left open behind her my wife heard Talbert's voice saying, in mixed mockery and tenderness, "Don't forget your tonic, mother," and hers saying, "No, I won't, Cyrus. I never forget it, and it's a great pity you don't take it, too."

It was our conclusion from all the facts of this call, when we came to discuss them in the light of some friendly gossip which we had previously heard, that the eldest daughter of the Talberts came honestly by her love of ruling if she got it from her grandmother, but that she was able to indulge it oftener, and yet not so often as might have been supposed from the mild reticence of her mother. Older if not shrewder observers than ourselves declared that what went in that house was what Mrs. Talbert said, and that it went all the more effectively because what she said Talbert said too.

That might have been because she said so little. When her mother left the room she let a silence follow in which she seemed too embarrassed to speak for a while on finding herself alone with my wife, and my wife decided that the shyness of the girl whose engagement was soon afterward reported, as well as the easy-goingness of the eldest son, had come from their mother. As soon as Mrs. Talbert could command herself, she began to talk, and every word she said was full of sense, with a little gust of humor in the sense which was perfectly charming. Absolutely unworldly as she was, she had very good manners; in her evasive way she was certainly qualified to be the leader of society in Eastridge, and socially Eastridge thought fairly well of itself. She did not obviously pretend to so much literature as her mother, but she showed an even nicer intelligence of our own situation in Eastridge. She spoke with a quiet appreciation of the improvement in the Banner, which, although she quoted Mr. Talbert, seemed to be the result of her personal acquaintance with the paper in the past as well as the present. My wife pronounced her the ideal mother of a family, and just what the wife of such a man as Cyrus Talbert ought to be, but no doubt because Mrs. Talbert's characteristics were not so salient as her mother's, my wife was less definitely descriptive of her.

From time to time, it seemed that there was a sister of Mr. Talbert's


The Whole Family - 2/38

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