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- The Whole Family - 20/38 -


consciousness on which I have already touched: he likes to come home from the Works every day to see how good he really is, after all--and it's what poor Mother thus has to demonstrate for him by translating his benevolence, translating it to himself and to others, into "housekeeping." If he were only good to HER he mightn't be good enough; but the more we pig together round about him the more blandly patriarchal we make him feel.

Eliza meanwhile, at any rate, is spoiling for a dose--if ever a woman required one; and I seem already to feel in the air the gathering elements of the occasion that awaits me for administering it. All of which it is a comfort somehow to maunder away on here. As I read over what I have written the aspects of our situation multiply so in fact that I note again how one has only to look at any human thing very straight (that is with the minimum of intelligence) to see it shine out in as many aspects as the hues of the prism; or place itself, in other words, in relations that positively stop nowhere. I've often thought I should like some day to write a novel; but what would become of me in that case--delivered over, I mean, before my subject, to my extravagant sense that everything is a part of something else? When you paint a picture with a brush and pigments, that is on a single plane, it can stop at your gilt frame; but when you paint one with a pen and words, that is in ALL the dimensions, how are you to stop? Of course, as Lorraine says, "Stopping, that's art; and what are we artists like, my dear, but those drivers of trolley-cars, in New York, who, by some divine instinct, recognize in the forest of pillars and posts the white-striped columns at which they may pull up? Yes, we're drivers of trolley-cars charged with electric force and prepared to go any distance from which the consideration of a probable smash ahead doesn't deter us."

That consideration deters me doubtless even a little here--in spite of my seeing the track, to the next bend, so temptingly clear. I should like to note for instance, for my own satisfaction (though no fellow, thank God, was ever less a prey to the ignoble fear of inconsistency) that poor Mother's impugnment of my acquisition of Lorraine didn't in the least disconcert me. I did pick Lorraine--then a little bleating stray lamb collared with a blue ribbon and a tinkling silver bell--out of our New York bear-garden; but it interests me awfully to recognize that, whereas the kind of association is one I hate for my small Philistine sister, who probably has the makings of a nice, dull, dressed, amiable, insignificant woman, I recognize it perfectly as Lorraine's native element and my own; or at least don't at all mind her having been dipped in it. It has tempered and plated us for the rest of life, and to an effect different enough from the awful metallic wash of our Company's admired ice-pitchers. We artists are at the best children of despair--a certain divine despair, as Lorraine naturally says; and what jollier place for laying it in abundantly than the Art League? As for Peg, however, I won't hear of her having anything to do with this; she shall despair of nothing worse than the "hang" of her skirt or the moderation other hat--and not often, if I can help her, even of those.

That small vow I'm glad to register here: it helps somehow, at the juncture I seem to feel rapidly approaching, to do the indispensable thing Lorraine is always talking about--to define my position. She's always insisting that we've never sufficiently defined it--as if I've ever for a moment pretended we have! We've REfined it, to the last intensity--and of course, now, shall have to do so still more; which will leave them all even more bewildered than the boldest definition would have done. But that's quite a different thing. The furthest we have gone in the way of definition--unless indeed this too belongs but to our invincible tendency to refine--is by the happy rule we've made that Lorraine shall walk with me every morning to the Works, and I shall find her there when I come out to walk home with me. I see, on reading over, that this is what I meant by "our" in speaking above of our little daily heroism in that direction. The heroism is easier, and becomes quite sweet, I find, when she comes so far on the way with me and when we linger outside for a little more last talk before I go in.

It's the drollest thing in the world, and really the most precious note of the mystic influence known in the place as "the force of public opinion"--which is in other words but the incubus of small domestic conformity; I really believe there's nothing we do, or don't do, that excites in the bosom of our circle a subtler sense that we're "au fond" uncanny. And it's amusing to think that this is our sole tiny touch of independence! That she should come forth with me at those hours, that she should hang about with me, and that we should have last (and, when she meets me again, first) small sweet things to say to each other, as if we were figures in a chromo or a tableau vwant keeping our tryst at a stile--no, this, quite inexplicably, transcends their scheme and baffles their imagination. They can't conceive how or why Lorraine gets out, or should wish to, at such hours; there's a feeling that she must violate every domestic duty to do it; yes, at bottom, really, the act wears for them, I discern, an insidious immorality, and it wouldn't take much to bring "public opinion" down on us in some scandalized way.

The funniest thing of all, moreover, is that that effect resides largely in our being husband and wife--it would be absent, wholly, if we were engaged or lovers; a publicly parading gentleman friend and lady friend. What is it we CAN have to say to each other, in that exclusive manner, so particularly, so frequently, so flagrantly, and as if we hadn't chances enough at home? I see it's a thing Mother might accidentally do with Father, or Maria with Tom Price; but I can imagine the shouts of hilarity, the resounding public comedy, with which Tom and Maria would separate; and also how scantly poor little Mother would permit herself with poor big Father any appearance of a grave leave-taking. I've quite expected her--yes, literally poor little Mother herself--to ask me, a bit anxiously, any time these six months, what it is that at such extraordinary moments passes between us. So much, at any rate, for the truth of this cluster of documentary impressions, to which there may some day attach the value as of a direct contemporary record of strange and remote things, so much I here super-add; and verily with regret, as well, on behalf of my picture, for two or three other touches from which I must forbear.

There has lately turned up, on our scene, one person with whom, doors and windows closed, curtains drawn, secrecy sworn, the whole town asleep and something amber-colored a-brewing--there has recently joined us one person, I say, with whom we might really pass the time of day, to whom we might, after due deliberation, tip the wink. I allude to the Parents' new neighbor, the odd fellow Temple, who, for reasons mysterious and which his ostensible undertaking of the native newspaper don't at all make plausible, has elected, as they say, fondly to sojourn among us. A journalist, a rolling stone, a man who has seen other life, how can one not suspect him of some deeper game than he avows--some such studious, surreptitious, "sociological" intent as alone, it would seem, could sustain him through the practice of leaning on his fence at eventide to converse for long periods with poor Father? Poor Father indeed, if a real remorseless sociologist were once to get well hold of him! Lorraine freely maintains that there's more in the Temples than meets the eye; that they're up to something, at least that HE is, that he kind of feels us in the air, just as we feel him, and that he would sort of reach out to us, by the same token, if we would in any way give the first sign. This, however, Lorraine contends, his wife won't let him do; his wife, according to mine, is quite a different proposition (much more REALLY hatted and gloved, she notes, than any one here, even than the belted and trinketed Eliza) and with a conviction of her own as to what their stay is going to amount to. On the basis of Lorraine's similar conviction about ours it would seem then that we ought to meet for an esoteric revel; yet somehow it doesn't come off. Sometimes I think I'm quite wrong and that he can't really be a child of light: we should in this case either have seen him collapse or have discovered what inwardly sustains him. We ARE ourselves inwardly collapsing--there's no doubt of that: in spite of the central fires, as Lorraine says somebody in Boston used to say somebody said, from which we're fed. From what central fires is Temple nourished? I give it up; for, on the point, again and again, of desperately stopping him in the street to ask him, I recoil as often in terror. He may be only plotting to MAKE me do it--so that he may give me away in his paper!

"Remember, he's a mere little frisking prize ass; stick to that, cling to it, make it your answer to everything: it's all you now know and all you need to know, and you'll be as firm on it as on a rock!" This is what I said to poor Peg, on the subject of Harry Goward, before I started, in the glorious impulse of the moment, five nights ago, for New York; and, with no moment now to spare, yet wishing not to lose my small silver clue, I just put it here for one of the white pebbles, or whatever they were, that Hop o' my Thumb, carried off to the forest, dropped, as he went, to know his way back. I was carried off the other evening in a whirlwind, which has not even yet quite gone down, though I am now at home and recovering my breath; and it will interest me vividly, when I have more freedom of mind, to live over again these strange, these wild successions. But a few rude notes, and only of the first few hours of my adventure, must for the present suffice. The mot, of the whole thing, as Lorraine calls it, was that at last, in a flash, we recognized what we had so long been wondering about--what supreme advantage we've been, all this latter time in particular, "holding out" for.

Lorraine had put it once again in her happy way only a few weeks previous; we were "saving up," she said--and not meaning at all our poor scant dollars and cents, though we've also kept hold of some of THEM--for an exercise of strength and a show of character that would make us of a sudden some unmistakable sign. We should just meet it rounding a corner as with the rush of an automobile--a chariot of fire that would stop but long enough to take us in, when we should know it immediately for the vehicle of our fate. That conviction had somehow been with us, and I had really heard our hour begin to strike on Peg's coming back to us from her co-educative adventure so preposterously "engaged." I didn't believe in it, in such a manner of becoming so, one little bit, and I took on myself to hate the same; though that indeed seemed the last thing to trouble any one else. Her turning up in such a fashion with the whole thing settled before Father or Mother or Maria or any of us had so much as heard of the young man, much less seen the tip of his nose, had too much in common, for my taste, with the rude betrothals of the people, with some maid-servant's announcement to her employer that she has exchanged vows with the butcher-boy.

I was indignant, quite artlessly indignant I fear, with the college authorities, barbarously irresponsible, as it struck me; for when I broke out about them to poor Mother she surprised me (though I confess she had sometimes surprised me before), by her deep fatalism. "Oh, I suppose they don't pretend not to take their students at the young people's own risk: they can scarcely pretend to control their affections!" she wonderfully said; she seemed almost shocked, moreover, that I could impute either to Father or to herself any disposition to control Peggy's. It was one of the few occasions of my life on which I've suffered irritation from poor Mother; and yet I'm now not sure, after all, that she wasn't again but at her old game (even then, for she has certainly been so since) of protecting poor Father, by feigning a like flaccidity, from the full appearance, not to say the full dishonor, of his failure ever to meet a domestic responsibility. It came over me that there would be absolutely nobody to meet this one, and my own peculiar chance glimmered upon me therefore on the spot. I can't retrace steps and stages; suffice it that my opportunity developed and broadened, to my watching eyes, with each precipitated consequence of the wretched youth's arrival.

He proved, without delay, an infant in arms; an infant, either,


The Whole Family - 20/38

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