It didn’t take long to pack and get going. We had trouble with the woman whose cottage we had occupied in Petersburg. Because we did not do any cooking in the kitchen, George had fitted it out as a darkroom. He had spilled chemicals about and the woman threatened to bring suit against his mother unless he settled satisfactorily. He must have done so for there was no lawsuit, although I was scared to death at the involvement and trembled at the prospect of his mother being informed of her bad boy’s doings.
It was wonderful getting home to Springfield. Once there, I dreaded leaving for Elgin. George’s mother and father had given us a well-built and furnished home in Elgin. It was set close to the street on a corner of Chapel and Fulton Streets, opposite a tiny park called High School Park, a block square and kept in condition by the city.
I wanted the worst way to furnish it ourselves but George persuaded me to let his mother do it. It would give her such pleasure and he was sure she would spend more on the furnishings than she would allow us in cold cash. George’s salary was only $100 a month. Reluctantly I yielded. After all, the whole thing was a gift. I shall never forget my first sight of the house that was to be my home for fourteen years.
To accept a gift is always exacting and I was too positive in my tastes to like any ready-made house. I had always been the one at home to select the wallpapers and decorating schemes each year, from necessity, and I had felt great pleasure in doing so. But now we had a generous landlord, who gave me carte blanche, and I loved it. We had no money to spend on new draperies but I had been able (with plenty of ingenuity) to make a charming dressing table out of old boxes, cover it with dotted Swiss valences, etc. My friends had exclaimed over its charm when they entered the room.
I remember nothing whatever any of us said as we walked about the rooms of our new house. Probably I said the usual things for I was both grateful and awed – or perhaps shocked is a better word, at the light way in which money was treated in the Cook family anyway – George’s cabbing about, expensive dinners and the like, and the way he bought music, copies and copies of the same songs. Music was one of my regular expenditures but any numbers I played were memorized from scores lent me by the Dean. Money had always been doled out carefully by my family. But it was evident that Mother Cook had found shopping taxing and, try as I could to like what was in the house – in strict honesty – I could not..
In the first place, parlors were one of my detestations: living rooms had suddenly superseded parlors and I was heart and soul for them. The new house had a front and back parlor on the corner side, south, a square entrance hall in the middle and the dining room and kitchen on the north. The rooms were small but well-windowed, large ones on the front and two curved ones on the corners, plus an extra one on the side. There was a tiny grate on the bias in the front parlor and a niche with a sofa pillow in it.
I was immediately in a quandary as to how much change I would dare make and I kept still for a few days. Because I knew nothing of cooking, Mama had arranged for Bertha Klann, the German maid who had gone to Evanston with us, to go to Elgin and help me get started. Mother had written her in Springfield and she was at Mama’s when we arrived from our honeymoon.
After our inspection of the house, as soon as George and the in-laws were gone, Bertha broke loose: “No decent silver in the Cook house,” she said, “and they rich people!” It was very annoying to hear from a maid that way and it became evident in no time that Bertha was not only dissatisfied with anything and everything, but she was homesick for Springfield. Naturally we let her go at once. Mama had, previous to our arrival, made the same discovery, and that was another headache.
As soon as seemed feasible, I began to adjust the furniture and draperies to my taste. Downstairs the curtains were lace and all alike. There was only one, however, at each window, and they looked skimpy. Doubling up meant that some rooms were without any. It was a vast improvement, I saw, and I had fun buying some inexpensive green- and white-striped curtains for the back parlor.
The rug in the front parlor was a Louis 14th or15th, a pale blue background with pink roses arbored on it. Living rooms called for dark grounds, I thought, so there was no use to trying to do anything to that room. There was a fragile square mahogany center table, two circular upholstered and very frail chairs, and one huge carved mahogany rocker. Over the grate a pale oak mantel mirror back held a homely, hand-painted vase that some Sunday School Scholar had painted. [The term Sunday School Scholar was often used in Cook publications at that time. – ed.] It was my first horror and I can still see its ugliness if I close my eyes.
My own wedding presents helped a lot downstairs for they were mostly to my taste and for the dining room. One of my pet aversions has always been golden oak. I prefer paint, any day. Our new dining room was not only furnished in a light colored oak but the furniture, a heavy ornate sideboard, plain wooden chairs and round table, were all of golden oak (and I mean golden!).
Out of the square entrance hall, at the back of the room, a two-landing staircase led to the second floor. Over the downstairs rooms there were four bedrooms and a gallery hallway. Each room had two windows and exposures with the exception of the one over the front hall which was intended for use as a sewing room. It had a French mullioned window with side panels. The bedroom chairs were all alike, golden oak, except the one in the sewing room which was mahogany. The beds were uniformly white iron, the same pattern in the two front bedrooms and a cheaper design for the maid’s bedroom over the kitchen. The room over the back parlor held only a couch with Baghdad cover and sofa cushions, and George’s roll-top desk from his room at home.
It was necessary for us to purchase a lot of things and we set out first to furnish this room completely. The wall was red and it was intended as an upstairs den. Mr. and Mrs. Radford, whom we had visited in Oshkosh, had a beautiful red and black living room which we adored. So we set out to copy it on a less expensive level. Charley Radford had arranged for all his bookcases and chairs to be especially made. They were finished in Flemish Oak (black). So we went shopping. We purchased a three-tier bookcase, and small hand-carved desk, and an oblong library table with shelf below. The rug was a red-figured Brussels; I purchased material with a cream-ground and a woven red flower and that room became our upstairs living room and quite the tastiest in the whole house, we thought.
There was the same curtain upstairs – one single to a window – and that we remedied. Mama had given me her old highboy and an Evanston cabinet maker, dear old Mr. Hargreaves, had refinished it for me for $10.00. As a matter of fact, he had tried to buy it from Mama, but since he offered her only $10.00 for it, she gave it to me instead.
Now that we were ready to start housekeeping, we made a check of conveniences. The kitchen had built-in cupboards over and around the sink, with a cold pantry and one open shelf. There was no ice box or refrigerator and it was necessary that we buy one at once.
The necessity of our having a piano, too, was obvious from the start and I would have no one but myself select it. I had left my own Mason & Hamlin upright at home and now, with adequate space, I wanted a grand. We went to Lyon & Healy’s and I found the exact one I wanted. I knew I could have a teacher’s discount, which amounted to about $150.00. The Pub House [publishing house] advertising man had tried, unsuccessfully, to get Lyon & Healy to advertise in the Cook publications, so now the Pub House superintendent said if we could get them to advertise, we could have the amount credited to us. George immediately got the ad man on the job and it amounted to just what the piano cost. On the same trip we bought a $3.50 icebox - Queen Anne in front, Mary Ann in rear. These two purchases became one of George’s stock jokes - $1,000 piano and $3.50 icebox.