By Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)
Chapter 40 - The Visitor
Copyright Scott Dunbar 2010
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Sylvia’s tragedy, which had been brought so intimately to Brother’s attention, had convinced him that the Springfield environment was not the sort that he wanted for Mary and me. Going out as a white-winged Galahad to sponge off society, however, was not in his line, and he saw no possibility of getting us out of town unless Father could be induced to put up the money. Then one day in a moment of optimism Father decided to invite Mother’s sister [Elizabeth Rees] in Ohio to visit us. He paid the expenses of her trip and we children were delighted beyond words.
Aunt Libby was a gentle self-sacrificing sort of person who had borne ten children and buried four, so her life had disciplined her vigorously. Uncle Jack, her husband, like Father was a Welshman. Father probably reasoned that since Aunt Libby’s lot was harder than Mother’s, she would be a healthy guest to have around.
Uncle Jack made a good living but he held on to it. He was a building contractor and one of his peculiarities was his insistence that he be paid in cash. When he finally completed a piece of work, his pockets were well lined for a time. He probably was skeptical about the safety of banks for he kept large amounts of money hidden in the house, though this fact he carefully kept to himself. There was so much work…
Two pages missing
…added, hoping she was making a favorable impression.
“Don’t you believe in a man amassing, say, a competence, Libby, to leave to his children after he’s gone,”
“No, Humphrey, I don’t. It’s too much like having your monument put up in the cemetery before you die to make sure you have a dignified burial set-up. What difference will it make to you whether or not you leave an estate? You’ll not be there to glory in it and you could have had a lot of fun spending it to give pleasure while you’re alive,”
said Aunt Libby.
“That’s true but a man likes to think he’s going to leave a little behind when he dies,”
Said Father taking his cigar case from his pocket for a fresh smoke.
“That’s an old-country notion, Humphrey, and it’s all right if you have enough left when you come to die. But you have your children to educate first. Sally needs lots of things and so do the girls,”
Aunt Libby argued.
“Money, money! That’s all I hear, Libby, when I come home,”
Said Father. He was beginning to feel sorry for himself now.
“That’s because you make such hard work of passing it out, Humphrey. You and Jack ought to take care of an extravagant wife for a few months. Then you’d learn to be thankful for your blessings,”
Aunt Libby finished. She felt a little as if she had been driving nails into her coffin, but the stakes were worth the gamble.
Ben and Lilly now appeared at the foot of the porch. The baby was in bed and the two sat down on the steps.
“She and the girls haven’t finished the dishes, I guess. They made me come away,”
Aunt Libby replied.
The evening sermon was over. Father wasn’t too comfortable and he walked stiffly down the steps to where a young birch tree had recently been planted. He examined its base carefully and then disappeared at the side of the house. They watched him in the dim light return with a pail and water and water the roots of the delicate white-barked tree, then set the pail on the flagstone.
The place was in nice condition. Father had cut the grass just before Aunt Libby’s arrival, and the odors from Mother’s flowers in the side yard pleasantly filled the warm spring air.
“Would you like to drive out to the National Cemetery tomorrow evening, Libby?”
Father inquired as he rejoined the group somewhat mollified.
“Yes, if you’ll promise not to leave me there, Humphrey. But tell me, why do all Welshmen take such pleasure in visiting graveyards?”
Questioned Aunt Libby spiritedly.
“We like to go to the National Cemetery because our only boulevard ends there.”
Father said with an injured air. He found Aunt Libby’s raillery hard to take.
“Well, you mustn’t mind me, Humphrey. You know in Newark all the Welsh steer their friends out to the cemetery to point out the graves of their grandfathers. That’s why I’m sick of it. I’m a lot more interested in how I’m going to pay for tomorrow’s butter and eggs.”
Ben and Lilly had slipped quietly into the house and Aunt Libby followed. Mother was not very optimistic over her sister’s tactics but she didn’t oppose them and Father and the guest were given ample opportunity to articulate the family skeleton. Mother and Aunt Libby both regarded her efforts as akin to a stutterer who tried to cure his friend of stammering. Mother knew Aunt Libby had found Uncle Jack a hard nut to crack, if Father had run a close second.
One morning as Father lingered to smoke his after-breakfast cigar on the porch with her, Aunt Libby grabbed the problem by both ears.
“How are you and Mayne getting along since he came back from Washington, Humphrey?”
Father’s cigar made a complete circuit before he replied,
“I don’t see him except occasionally at the Post Office window.”
“You must be proud of him, Humphrey. He’s certainly a boy in a million,”
Aunt Libby continued.
“Mayne would have made a fine lawyer if he hadn’t got other notions from his mother. As it stands now, he’ll be changing positions every administration. The Post Office is a political job you know, Libby.”
“Yes, I know it is but if Mr. Abbott hadn’t known what a fine fellow he was he’d never have offered it to so young a boy. Wasn’t it Mr. Abbott who offered to adopt him a few years ago?”
She inquired with a sly look to see if she had hit too hard. Father’s face took on a slight flush as he said,
“That was one of your sister’s remarks, said to distress me. You wouldn’t believe the things she does to make my position intolerable, Libby.”
He was in danger of biting his cigar to pieces now.
Aunt Libby smiled.
“Yes, I know Sally pretty well, Humphrey. We grew up together, remember? Sally’s a determined character and she’s going to fight if she has to for her children’s rights. Their futures are more important to her than anything in the world, Humphrey, and somehow I can’t blame her even though she’s bound to make mistakes. We all do, and you, Humphrey, - how about you? You aren’t blameless are you?”
Aunt Libby’s soft, slow speech could be direct. It was a new Libby to him. He began to defend himself.
“What would you say if I told you, Libby, that she’s asked me to give her two thousand dollars, to take the two girls to Boston? She wants to stay two years and leave me here.”
“But, Humphrey, you know why. You were going to send Lilly to and eastern college but you didn’t and she married long before she’d intended. Sally wants to do better by Mary and Una. Isn’t that what a mother should do?”
Their voices were rising. The climax was reached.
“The head of a family should have the right to be counseled at least.”
Father rose. He was getting nowhere and he knew it.
“I’m afraid that we don’t see eye to eye, Libby, and I can see that Sade has been poisoning your mind.”
“Oh, Humphrey, why don’t you try to be a little more human? Sally’s as susceptible as the rest of us to kindness.”
Aunt Libby rose and put her hand on his arm.
“We all like it, you know, Humphrey,”
And she bestowed her warmest smile on him. There was no answer.
“Well, we’ve another warm day ahead of us, I guess.”
She spoke gaily
“My, it certainly makes things grow. Isn’t that the tree you paid so much for?”
Pointing to a hard maple that was Father’s great pride.
“Yes, it’s nice, isn’t it?”
Father observed and started down the steps bound for the office.
“Goodbye, Humphrey, I hope you get a profitable case today and make a lot of money,”
She called as she turned to go in the front door.
He responded and lifted his hat in a farewell gesture.
Mother met her.
“Well, did you and Humphrey come to any conclusions?”
“Not that I noticed. I’m afraid I’m not a very able arguer, Sally.”
“And Humphrey loves it so,”
Added Mother and the matter was dropped.
The day that Aunt Libby had arrived, she had remembered that I had a birthday coming up soon.
“I suppose you are going to have a party, Una”
She had said. Such a thought had never entered my mind. In fact I’d never had a party in my whole life.
I asked Mother.
“Maybes don’t fly in April. May I, mama?”
Was as far as I could get.
It was a fortuitous time for a party for Father was in a happier spirit. The idea grew like a snowball and I was excited to the point of spontaneous combustion. Lilly liked the idea and gave it a boost. Since no one really vetoed the plan we went ahead. It was a Pansy Party. One of Mother’s friends who was the town’s professional artist painted me a beautiful, big pansy on white cloth, and when the day came, twenty fourteen-year-olds (blindfolded) pinned long stems on it with exactly as much enthusiasm as five to seven-year-olds today.
Aunt Libby had no idea what she had engineered. Even Father was smiling because of his generosity, and when the newspapers spread sentimental rubbish on their sheets about it we purred with satisfaction. Aunt Libby had untied the knot in Father’s purse strings. Final proof of it came the day before she boarded the train for home.
Father came home early to supper, and hunted for her. She was out on the terrace helping Mother water the precious plants that grew beside the fence. He was a little fussed at the last moment as he approached her.
“I’m going to miss your kindness when you leave and I bought this little gift to express my appreciation for what you’ve at least tried to do,”
And handed her a small parcel, obviously a jeweler’s box. Aunt Libby was flabbergasted as she put down her watering can and walked over to the front steps and sat down. Jewelry boxes always carried a thrill, even when you were old enough to have grown children. She opened the box.
“Oh, how lovely, Humphrey!”
It was an exquisitely enameled brooch set with a sizable diamond. Father was pleased at her exclamation.
“Put it on and let’s see how it looks on your dress,”
“Do it for me, Humphrey,”
She urged. Father leaned over and fastened it at her throat, then gave her a pretty good sales talk on Springfield’s jewelers. Aunt Libby thanked him cordially and the brooch was the center of attention at supper. We were all pleased at Aunt Libby’s haul but there were no words of appreciation coming from us children to Father. If he had given Mother one too, we would have been happier. Viewed from our standpoint, his timing was bad.
The next morning, a photographer appeared at the house to make a picture of the place and the family. It was a last moment tribute to Aunt Libby, a gesture of Father’s generosity. In stiff and undecorative attitudes, we spread ourselves over the lawn. Aunt Libby displayed the baby from her post beside Father and I leaned my male banjo against my gingham dress. The maple tree waved exultantly and the vines clutched the stone foundation of the house.
Aunt Libby’s vacation paid dividends. There was not a member of the family who had not profited in some manner by it. As for me, I had given my first party and manifested germs of social aplomb. Before returning to school it became imperative to lengthen my skirts. The braid that for years I had manouvered to keep from sitting upon, I now doubled several times and fastened with hairpins. My hair was going up as my skirts were coming down. Bangs that had been straighter than silk fringe were curled on tongs to add maturity and softness to my chin. Fluffy hair concealed my ears, and in my breast was hope.
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