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Cymric Strain

By Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)

Chapter 34 - Coming Events, Etc.


Copyright Scott Dunbar 2010

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 CHAPTER 34

      “Coming Events, Etc.”

It was just after the Christmas holidays, that period when bills are larger and the doldrums are settling down on the community’s chest, that two theorists with separate designs for beautiful living entered Springfield.  They were Mrs. Annie Jenness Miller, a dress reform specialist, and Major Cole, evangelist.  Mrs. Miller checked into the Metropolitan Hotel.  Major Cole slept and ate at ministerial boards.  Each exerted an influence on the community in general and our family in particular, and although it is difficult to pick a winner at this moment, I’d say, offhand, that Major Cole had the edge on things.

          Father was all enthusiasm over Mrs. Miller’s idea of correct and beautiful costume.  Bustles and reeds were on their way out of fashion.  The belles of town had been polled and interviewed as to their tastes for the future of fashion, and Lilly openly espoused the reforms of Annie Jenness Miller.  She couldn’t have avoided it for Father expounded its merits incessantly.  He had always been vehement in asserting that women’s organs belonged where the Lord had placed them, so he was meat for Mrs. Miller’s bow and spear.  Her book, Beauty of Form and Grace of Vesture, rang a bell for him and he handled it as reverently as a public document.  Father attended one of her lectures at which she had appeared in various seductively- flowing Greek draperies and he was so sold that nothing would do but that we should employ her theories for the family pulchritude.  Mary, having the most plastic figure, was chosen as the suitable model.  Mrs. Ackley, our dressmaker, was instructed to check her previously acquired ideas of style and convert Mary into a modern Diana.

          It was all very exciting to me.  At a specially designated moment Mary emerged in clinging drapery, a sash dripping heavily from her left side, while Father surveyed her frame with a critical eye, patted her shoulders and neckline and told her to

 “Stand straight, head up and chin out.” 

I remember with what longing eyes I looked at Mary’s slinking form and wondered how many years it would take for my stomach to collapse and my legs to lengthen so that I might wear as decorative a G string.

          Major Cole’s theory was somewhat more disconcerting than Mrs. Miller’s.  Flowing dress had no part in his concept.  It was the raiment of the soul, a pure and spotless character, that brought him to town and he did a land-office business in the weeks he was there.  But though there were plenty of customers for salvation, the cut and jib of divine raiment took longer to perfect.  If the Major had relied on his own selling powers the effect would not have been so devastating.  Major Cole was more wise.  He enlisted as cohorts the most attractive girls in town.  The social calendar was outmoded by the hymnbook.  Services held each night were of first importance and Major Cole’s ‘Praise the Lord’ echoed through the hall or church as some especially stiff objector yielded to the soft impeachments of a red-cheeked wench and rose to be numbered with the saints.

2 pages missing

 

… under the circumstance marriage might solve several problems.  In the fall Ben formally interviewed Father and at Christmas, simultaneous with the acquisition of her ring, Lilly announced her engagement and the wedding was set for the next October, nearly a year off.

          Lilly was languid all through the spring season but she managed to finish her teaching and in July, at the doctor’s suggestion, Father sent her to Graydon Springs for a rest.  Ben was getting established in business at the shoe store his father owned and Lilly’s summer was spent sewing and planning for the wedding.  One of the crumbs that fell to me from her table of joys was the privilege of being allowed to clean her diamond ring.  My interest in diamonds had not abated with the years, though I was no nearer owning one.  Lilly insisted that the solitaire was most effectively brightened by the application of alcohol and tissue paper and I had been an apt pupil.  Once when I was admiring her engagement ring, she told me that if she did not marry Ben, I might have it.  That was a most dangerous pledge to make to an immature mind, especially one that doted on diamonds.  I was very fond of Ben, but, of course, if something happened to him, I couldn’t be held to account.  The laps of the gods were uncertain sitting spots and my pale amethyst was looking less glamorous each day. Then, believe it or not, something did happen.

          It was an August evening.  Supper had been cleared away and Mother, Mary and I wandered out to the front lawn.  Lilly was off on a date and Father at his office.  Nellie Eberhart drifted in and we played tree games as darkness fell.  Suddenly, Ben’s younger brother, Will, dashed down the street and up our front walk to the porch where Mother sat.

“Mrs. Howell,”

He said excitedly,

“The big grey has just come home with part of the harness hanging to him.  Mother thought you would want to know,”

He gasped all in one breath.

Mother put her hand to her heart as if to stop its beating and we children drew near to hear the particulars.  Although he was a beauty, Prince, the grey horse, had a bad reputation in our family both as a riding and driving animal.

“Do you have any idea what Ben and Lill’s plans were?”

Will asked Mother.

“None at all,”

She replied,

“All I know is that they went for a drive.”

In a day of rapid transportation it is difficult to class a runaway with an automobile crack-up but a frightened horse is as great a potential danger.  A runaway in those days nearly always meant injury or death.

We children had never liked the grey horse because he was vicious and unmanageable.  Now we were terrified.  Mother, whose vivid imagination made her able to visualize the worst, rushed upstairs and opened Lilly’s bed.  (We had no hospitals in Springfield.)  Then she led the way on foot to search unlighted gutters for the wreck.  The crow of every chicken going to roost, she was sure, was Lilly’s dying call.  We walked for a long time, Mother crying softly all the way, but naturally found nothing. So we retraced our steps and sat down on the porch to await news or work out a plan.  We had barely closed the gate when Ben and Lilly limped up the walk arm in arm.  They looked for all the world like a pair of candidates just defeated in an election as they sat and told us their story.

They had been having a grand drive on West Walnut Street when suddenly the horse began to run.  The shaft on one side had dropped; probably from a lost bolt, and struck the grey’s leg again and again.  Slowing down only made matters worse and the frightened animal charged again and again as Ben sought to check his speed.

“When I slow down, Lill, you jump.  I can’t control him much longer,”

Ben said as he struggled to check the plunging horse.

“I won’t unless you do,”

She insisted.

“Please, for my sake, Sweet,’

“ Now,”

He begged.

Lilly leaped and pulling with all his might on the reins, Ben turned the buggy into a hitching post and jumped out.  As he did so he grabbed at the bridle but was not able to hold it and the frightened animal broke away and tore down the street dragging the shafts behind him and leaving the rig at the post.  Faster and faster he ran, not stopping till he had reached the haven of his own stable.

Though badly frightened, neither Ben nor Lilly had been injured.  After a brief rest at a friend’s house they began their trek back.  The walk seemed long for they were more than a mile from home.

“Thank God, you are safe,”

Mother kept reiterating and every time she spoke cold creeps went up and down my back.  Something had happened all right and I was very, very glad that Ben was alive and I couldn’t have Lilly’s diamond ring.  Men weren’t so bad after all.

I didn’t like it though that Lilly insisted on riding the wicked grey at the fair in September, but there was no accounting for tastes.  She seemed to love his fractious spirit as much as his arching neck. 

Autumn days were at hand and I had been promised that I might be a bridesmaid.  Brother was returning from Washington to be at the wedding, and after all a wedding was an exciting affair and this one, the first in our family.

Cymric Strain, by Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)

Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - Father

Chapter 3 - Dartmouth

Chapter 4 - Killolog

Chapter 5 - America

Chapter 6 - Arrival

Chapter 7 - Gracious Living

Chapter 8 - I Am Born

Chapter 9 - My Name

Chapter 10 - Neighbors

Chapter 11 - The Cyclone

Chapter 12 - The Old Cemetary

Chapter 13 - Music

Chapter 14 - Religion

Chapter 15 - The Circuit

Chapter 16 - Hero No. 1

Chapter 17 - Pageantry

Chapter 18 - Mommy

Chapter 19 - Mental Quirks

Chapter 20 - Decoration

Chapter 21 - Domestic Animals

Chapter 22 - Episode

Chapter 23 - Barn Life

Chapter 24 - Vanities

Chapter 25 - Happy Hollow

Chapter 26 - New Horizons

Chapter 27 - Disciplines

Chapter 28 - An Experimenter

Chapter 29 - Health

Chapter 30 - Murder

Chapter 31 - Misunderstandings

Chapter 32 - Charm

Chapter 33 - Problems

Chapter 34 -Coming Events, Etc.

Chapter 35 - The Wedding

Chapter 36 - At Home

Chapter 37 - Cross Currents

Chapter 38 - A Baby

Chapter 39 - Dr. Winston

Chapter 40 - The Visitor

Chapter 41 - Buffetings

Chapter 42 - Agenda

Chapter 43 - David

Chapter 44 - Exit