By Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)
Chapter 42 - Agenda
Copyright Scott Dunbar 2010
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Aunt Libby’s visit has really demonstrated Father’s personal pleasure in giving where it was appreciated. The chief difficulty with us children was that we were so adverse to friction that we fled at Father’s approach like rabbits from a gunner. What we preferred was an Adamless Eden, or if Adam had to be there, we would have liked him to be so connubially content that he’d have bent happily to Eve’s will.
Father’s life at this period was wholly dedicated to work and work that was not calculated to sustain faith in human nature. Among other responsibilities, he was United States Commissioner and Federal cases were tried before him. The infringements were largely cutting timber from Government lands and the making and passing of counterfeit money. These informal tribunals were held in his office. For some time Mary had at odd intervals made marginal annotations on his law books, run business errands for him and worked under his direction. The court experience was very educational. Most of the men arraigned were typical hillbillies, unkempt and wholly illiterate. Since few could read or write, one of her duties was to help the prisoners sign their names. Every time a new one touched the pen while she inscribed his name, Mary had a fresh shock.
Living with Father and Mother was valuable training for democracy. Mother’s attitude towards Negroes, that of racial equality, irritated more than one first family. She was only forgiven because she was a northerner. Father’s ideas were equally democratic. Once or twice in the early days he had taken the entire jury home to dinner without even notifying Mother, but as the family increased and the town added cafes he took other ways of showing his liberal attitudes. Individual clients, however, continued to make their appearance at our table. I remember especially one who held us spellbound with his skillful maneuvering of peas on a knife. Mother, unable to imagine such expertness, proffered various implements but wholly without success.
“Thanks, I’ll use my knife.”
He said as we children gulped with amazement.
I was profoundly impressed with Father’s culprits and the infractions of the law they had committed. When they explained to him that they were not aware that they were violating Federal code, I thought Father should regard it as extenuation, and I was sorry for them. Father, however, felt differently and made it clear to both the hillbillies and me that ignorance of the law was no excuse, and furthermore that Uncle Sam felt that way too and had small regard for failure to respect his demands. Father talked so much about it that it was ingrained in us children. Occasionally he brought home concrete bits of evidence introduced in his court to prove the guilt of the mountaineers. A piece of counterfeit money he had carried away from the office rested on the dining-room mantelpiece one day when a fruit vendor at the back door tried to interest Mother in buying some peaches. Mother was busy at the time and told the man she wanted nothing. He persisted stubbornly and called attention to the superior quality of his fruit.
“Yes, I see they are nice,”
“But I haven’t any money.”
It was a rubber stamp reply but much too true for comfort.
“Sure you have money. There’s some right there on the shelf. I can see it,”
The man insisted. Mother followed his gaze to the spurious half-dollar on the mantelpiece and said,
“Oh, that’s not good money. That’s counterfeit.”
The man took a second look.
“I’ll give you a basket of peaches for it.”
He said, watching Mother’s face.
“Oh, I couldn’t do that,”
“My husband is a United States Commissioner and he wouldn’t like it. Besides it’s against the law to pass counterfeit money.”
“You don’t need to pass it, I’ll just help myself,”
The emboldened huckster said and suiting his action to the word he stepped into the dining-room, picked up the coin and dropped it into his pocket.
Mother was thinking fast but she made no effort to detain the man. Out of the corner of her eye she must have seen the basket he had deposited on the top step of her porch as he slipped quietly away. I can’t see how Mother could have failed to know that she had violated at least the spirit of the law but I doubt whether her conscience bothered her at all. She had a way of making exceptions in crucial cases.
When school opened in the fall, Mary left her post in Father’s office and was thrilled at the prospect of being a High School senior. Father had offered no suggestions concerning further education and Mary wanted to be a teacher the same as Lilly (Lilly was the family’s particular pattern for excellence in everything.) The curriculum was as tedious as ever, no more exciting than the weather, which was uniformly commonplace. Once in a blue moon when snow fell covering the dirty streets and landscape with a shimmering white lace fichu, sleighs that were rotting in buggy sheds, were dragged from the hiding places and stripped of cobwebs, teams hitched to them and favored ones went for a ride. A wagon-bed , too, was occasionally put on runners and carpeted with hay, furnishing a background for a quasi-decorous sleighing party, with oyster stew afterward at some one’s house or café. Oratorical contests were commoner, however, and winning males basked in the radiance of girlish approval. But, between Christmas and May, long and tedious days extended before Father made it known that he would provide the proper graduating equipment for his second daughter.
Mary’s dress was made at the shop, a lovely crepe de Nice. A Watteau bow trailed down her back like a bride’s veil and how I loved it. All the accessories were provided and Father topped off with a gold bowknot brooch for good measure.
At that time Springfield had no training school for teachers. The common method for filling vacancies by the board of education was to appoint its own graduates as teachers. Lilly had begun in that way and Mary planned to follow suit.
Among the friends who were genuinely interested in lifting Mary’s and my education from a common school level to a higher one was Judge Baker’s wife. Mrs. Baker had been one of the first women to graduate from Northwestern University and her grandfather had been one of the founders. She was a close friend of Frances Willard, an ardent W.C.T.U.er, a militant suffragette, and of all things I was not used to in a woman. She believed that women should share all the advantages created for men and I confess that when she turned her energies in my direction I was overpowered by her vehemence.
I had had several music teachers in Springfield; Chalfant, Muhlberger, Gastel and finally Frederic Law. They were good teachers and from time to time they had regaled Mrs. Baker with enthusiastic reports of my progress. Mr. Law had a room in the home of Judge Baker’s daughter, and I’ve always imagined that it was his interest that impelled her to foster my suture.
She began by trying to excite Father’s enthusiastic support, and when she failed to get results from him, went over to the Post Office to interview Brother. Mrs. Baker was one of those grand bodies of people who was not easily deflected from what they consider their obligation to society. Her interest in me was not a superficial thing and I owe her a debt that I can never repay. Without either Mary’s or my knowledge, she had collected information about us. She knew that we were conscientious and made good grades. With a determination to aid us as far as possible, she simply took us over as her problem and, having had a broad education herself, set about finding a way to get us out of Springfield into richer fields of culture.
I had had no lessons for a year or more. Fortunately I had reached a stage where I could read at sight very well, and my ambition to become a pianist led me into attempting to play whatever literature came into my possession. That, however, was scant, for I had access only to folios that were loaned to me and often were simplified to the point of vacuity. I would have had a rich feast in the compositions that are now supplied by the circulation department of the public library. So far as Mary and I knew, there were no plans being made for our education other than that open to everyone. If Father and Mother were advising together they shared no information with us. Mrs. Baker occasionally came to see us and talked ardently of the time when we could get away. We smiled joyously with her at her implications but our future was still in the laps of the gods.
Lilly was expecting a new baby in August. There was not so much secrecy about it this time. Our own affairs were in so static a state, and babies so popular, that work for a new one was a pleasant diversion. We relieved Lilly, too, of taking care of Howie whenever it could be arranged. As soon as breakfast was out of the way, it was my habit to slip through the fence and take him home with me for the morning; he and I made beds together. He was full of energy and quick of movement. He was a year and a half old now and spent a great deal of time at our house. He liked the freedom that the larger house gave him, to go up and down the stairs and to explore closets. He would dart about like a bee keeping a barrage of chatter going to hold my interest. He was especially curious about my activities and sometimes, when I had to shut the door to my room to do something secretly, he would find me and report what I was doing to the family to their great delight.
I had just put the finishing touches to the spare bedroom one morning when I realized that I could no longer hear his soliloquies. Silence was ominous. I was about to start on an investigating tour when he appeared in the doorway. He was stepping carefully and dangling from his right hand was Father’s revolver. “Pitty” he said, calling my attention to the shining nickel on the gun, as he held it toward me questioningly. I was terror stricken, for Father kept his revolver loaded. I covered the distance quickly and presented a sort of galvanized grin that I hoped would reassure him. It was like waiting for a cobra to strike. The weight was too heavy for his baby fingers, and he searched my face to see if I approved his act. We met without an explosion, I more scared than he. Then I thanked him elaborately and kept up an inane drivel as between us we carried the weapon to Father’s room and deposited it under the pillow. When night came on that eventful day I said an extra “Thank you” to my Maker for special guardian service and each day thereafter.
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