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- Sylvia's Marriage - 1/43 -



"The importance of the theme cannot be doubted, and no one hitherto ignorant of the ravages of the evil and therefore, by implication, in need of being convinced can refuse general agreement with Mr. Sinclair upon the question as he argues it. The character that matters most is very much alive and most entertaining."--_The Times._

"Very severe and courageous. It would, indeed, be difficult to deny or extenuate the appalling truth of Mr. Sinclair's indictment."-- _The Nation._

"There is not a man nor a grown woman who would not be better for reading Sylvia's Marriage."--_The Globe_

"Those who found Sylvia charming on her first appearance will find her as beautiful and fascinating as ever."--_The Pall Mall.

"A novel that frankly is devoted to the illustration of the dangers that society runs through the marriage of unsound men with unsuspecting women. The time has gone by when any objection was likely to be taken to a perfectly clean discussion of a nasty subject."--_T.P.'s Weekly._














1. I am telling the story of Sylvia Castleman. I should prefer to tell it without mention of myself; but it was written in the book of fate that I should be a decisive factor in her life, and so her story pre-supposes mine. I imagine the impatience of a reader, who is promised a heroine out of a romantic and picturesque "society" world, and finds himself beginning with the autobiography of a farmer's wife on a solitary homestead in Manitoba. But then I remember that Sylvia found me interesting. Putting myself in her place, remembering her eager questions and her exclamations, I am able to see myself as a heroine of fiction.

I was to Sylvia a new and miraculous thing, a self-made woman. I must have been the first "common" person she had ever known intimately. She had seen us afar off, and wondered vaguely about us, consoling herself with the reflection that we probably did not know enough to be unhappy over our sad lot in life. But here I was, actually a soul like herself; and it happened that I knew more than she did, and of things she desperately needed to know. So all the luxury, power and prestige that had been given to Sylvia Castleman seemed as nothing beside Mary Abbott, with her modern attitude and her common-sense.

My girlhood was spent upon a farm in Iowa. My father had eight children, and he drank. Sometimes he struck me; and so it came about that at the age of seventeen I ran away with a boy of twenty who worked upon a neighbour's farm. I wanted a home of my own, and Tom had some money saved up. We journeyed to Manitoba, and took out a homestead, where I spent the next twenty years of my life in a hand-to-hand struggle with Nature which seemed simply incredible to Sylvia when I told her of it.

The man I married turned out to be a petty tyrant. In the first five years of our life he succeeded in killing the love I had for him; but meantime I had borne him three children, and there was nothing to do but make the best of my bargain. I became to outward view a beaten drudge; yet it was the truth that never for an hour did I give up. When I lost what would have been my fourth child, and the doctor told me that I could never have another, I took this for my charter of freedom, and made up my mind to my course; I would raise the children I had, and grow up with them, and move out into life when they did.

This was when I was working eighteen hours a day, more than half of it by lamp-light, in the darkness of our Northern winters. When the accident came, I had been doing the cooking for half a dozen men, who were getting in the wheat upon which our future depended. I fell in my tracks, and lost my child; yet I sat still and white while the men ate supper, and afterwards I washed up the dishes. Such was my life in those days; and I can see before me the face of horror with which Sylvia listened to the story. But these things are common in the experience of women who live upon pioneer farms, and toil as the slave-woman has toiled since civilization began.

We won out, and my husband made money. I centred my energies upon getting school-time for my children; and because I had resolved that they should not grow ahead of me, I sat up at night, and studied their books. When the oldest boy was ready for high-school, we moved to a town, where my husband had bought a granary business. By that time I had become a physical wreck, with a list of ailments too painful to describe. But I still had my craving for knowledge, and my illness was my salvation, in a way--it got me a hired girl, and time to patronize the free library.

I had never had any sort of superstition or prejudice, and when I got into the world of books, I began quickly to find my way. I travelled into by-paths, of course; I got Christian Science badly, and New Thought in a mild attack. I still have in my mind what the sober reader would doubtless consider queer kinks; for instance, I still practice "mental healing," in a form, and I don't always tell my secret thoughts about Theosophy and Spiritualism. But almost at once I worked myself out of the religion I had been taught, and away from my husband's politics, and the drugs of my doctors. One of the first subjects I read about was health; I came upon a book on fasting, and went away upon a visit and tried it, and came back home a new woman, with a new life before me.

In all of these matters my husband fought me at every step. He wished to rule, not merely my body, but my mind, and it seemed as if every new thing that I learned was an additional affront to him. I don't think I was rendered disagreeable by my culture; my only obstinacy was in maintaining the right of the children to do their own thinking. But during this time my husband was making money, and filling his life with that. He remained in his every idea the money-man, an active and bitter leader of the forces of greed in our community; and when my studies took me to the inevitable end, and I joined the local of the Socialist party in our town, it was to him like a blow in the face. He never got over it, and I think that if the children had not been on my side, he would have claimed the Englishman's privilege of beating me with a stick not thicker than his thumb. As it was, he retired into a sullen hypochondria, which was so pitiful that in the end I came to regard him as not responsible.

I went to a college town with my three children, and when they were graduated, having meantime made sure that I could never do anything but torment my husband, I set about getting a divorce. I had helped to lay the foundation of his fortune, cementing it with my blood, I might say, and I could fairly have laid claim to half what he had brought from the farm; but my horror of the parasitic woman had come to be such that rather than even seem to be one, I gave up everything, and went out into the world at the age of forty-five to earn my own living. My children soon married, and I would not be a burden to them; so I came East for a while, and settled down quite unexpectedly into a place as a field-worker for a child-labour committee.

You may think that a woman so situated would not have been apt to meet Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver, _née_ Castleman, and to be chosen for her bosom friend; but that would only be because you do not know the modern world. We have managed to get upon the consciences of the rich, and they invite us to attend their tea-parties and disturb their peace of mind. And then, too, I had a peculiar hold upon Sylvia; when I met her I possessed the key to the great mystery of her life. How that had come about is a story in itself, the thing I have next to tell.

2. It happened that my arrival in New York from the far West coincided with Sylvia's from the far South; and that both fell at a time when there were no wars or earthquakes or football games to compete for the front page of the newspapers. So everybody was talking about the prospective wedding. The fact that the Southern belle had caught the biggest prize among the city's young millionaires was enough to establish precedence with the city's subservient newspapers, which had proceeded to robe the grave and punctilious figure of the bridegroom in the garments of King

Sylvia's Marriage - 1/43

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