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Cymric Strain

By Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)

Chapter 44 - Exit


Copyright Scott Dunbar 2010

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 CHAPTER 44

      “Exit”

 

          When cold weather arrived, searching winds howled down the chimneys, and the winter wood, apples and coal were safely stored in the dark cellar. Father decided that he would try his luck at politics again, and announced his candidacy for the office of Probate Judge.  I don’t know what determined him to take this step.  His duties as United States Commissioner had absorbed so much of his time that for years he hadn’t even collected the fees due him from the Government.

Brother was still serving his term as Assistant Postmaster, yet in spite of this limitation on his time, he offered his services to Father to help him run his campaign.  Politics in 1893 hadn’t achieved the organizational heights (or depths) it now boasts and neither Father nor Maynard intended to use unsavory ingredients in their campaign.  Father’s integrity was not to be questioned.  Anyone who knew him could be sure of that.  However, political purity is oftentimes less of an asset in politics than a hazard, and no one was more aware of that fact than Maynard.  All his spare moments were spent furthering Father's cause and his loyalty quickly aroused the admiration of fathers whose sons had wavered in filial allegiance.

In spite of the energy, time and money expended in legitimate ways, however, Father was defeated in the spring election.  It was by a close margin but much valuable time had been lost and the strain had worn everybody down.  Father had sadly neglected his law practice for months and now his viewpoint dipped dangerously and the atmosphere of home was far from stimulating.  The social problems of the community were increasing and the choice between ultra-gaiety and a fast set made any social life unattractive.  Boys whom I had known well were running away to public dance halls, while their sisters were safely cloistered from both harm and happiness.

A few weeks before, the mother of one of my boy-friends had sent a hurry call to me to use my influence to keep him out of the places he was frequenting.  I couldn’t picture myself as an alluring angel of goodness pleading with Everett to:

“Follow me, Little Boy and I will lead you into paths of goodness and monotony,”

anymore than I could visualize myself hauling him up by the bootstraps from a morass he had fallen into.  The answer to the problem as I saw it was to tell Mother which I did.  Mother had previously appealed to Everett’s mother to give him more rope. (His parents forbade dancing.)

“I can’t Mrs. Howell, as long as his father is an elder in the church,”

 

She had said.

“Maybe you are right, but if he were my boy I would yield a point and have him dance at home rather than have him go to public dance halls where you know the influences are questionable,”

Mother argued.

Everett had violated home rules not once but several times.  He had bought dancing pumps at a downtown store and charged them to his father’s account.  When the parents learned what he had done, they reprimanded him and hid the shoes but the operation was repeated.  It was after they had disposed of the second pair of pumps that the S.O.S. was sent to me, and I extended the invitation (promptly accepted) to dance himself out to our house.

It was at this juncture that Mrs. Boker, my consistent advocate, came forward with a concrete plan.  The Judge and Mrs. Boker, in addition to maintaining a suite of rooms in the Boker block, owned a comfortable place in Evanston, Illinois.  Their three children were in school there, and whenever it was feasible the parents broke away from their work in Springfield to visit them.  Frances was a senior at Northwestern University; Bill in Evanston High School and George in grade school.  Mrs. Boker now proposed a plan for Mother to take over her place for the winter, thus giving Mary and me a chance at better advantages than Springfield could afford us, Mother to assume full responsibility of the house and the children and take with us our German maid, Bertha.

Mother agreed to think the plan over and hold a family conference.  The idea put forward was for her to pay a visit to her sisters in Ohio, and on the return trip stop off in Evanston to look the situation over.  Away from immediate problems she could more reliably evaluate the prospect.

Mrs. Boker had painted a glowing picture of Evanston; the saloonless home for unostentatious millionaires.  No streetcars effaced its parklike streets, and Frances Willard exerted so potent an influence that goodness well nigh burst the seams of the righteous, according to her reports.

Breaking up the family was not a cheering prospect, with Father in poor spirits, and Mother was loath to endorse the plan unless the benefits were high.  Fate, however, had a way of appearing at needed moments, though just why Oklahoma should have seen fit to call Father at that time is still a mystery.  The offer came about through most commonplace channels.  Among Father’s friends was a Mr. Brookenfield, a man the family knew but slightly.  He was a pioneering type with nomadic tendencies who had nosed his way to Oklahoma just as the state was born.  Scenting a boom, he wrote to Father outlining a most persuasive program and urging him to come swiftly and give his legal wisdom.  His letter was just what Father needed to lift him out of the slough of despond he had fallen into, and after a study of the situation and free exchange of letters, Father wrote Mr. Brookenfield that he would come as soon as his business could be arranged.

With this decision out of the way, we gathered Mother’s wardrobe together, packed her off on the ‘Frisco train and waited hopefully for her decision.  In the interim Mary and I were thrilled at the faintest prospect of a winter in a big city.

Dell Eberhardt ran over in the early morning to get the last bit of gossip.

“The girls will have a fine chance in a rich town to pick off a millionaire,

She said to Lilly.

“Una’s sure to make a good catch!”

She added and I was shocked at her crassness.  Marrying for money in my mind linked up with the minor crimes.  It was so horrible a violation that I couldn’t even talk about it.  I thought of E. P. Roe’s characterizations of the rich who loved their toddies and drowned in a sea of recriminations, and determined anew that I would never look with favor on an opulent suitor.  Romance maybe, but never money.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Little Egypt’s oriental wiles were ruffling domestic seas near the Midway Plaisance when Mother arrived in Chicago.  The Columbian Exposition was really drawing to a close, though nature and the management endeavored to conceal the fact. September shook out her kaleidoscopic colors with prodigality that year.  Lake Michigan lapped pebbles on sandy beaches, and lagoons like turquoise matrixes seemed in collusion with this world enterprise.

The house that Mother was to inspect was at the north edge of Evanston.  It was a ten-room frame contraption, more commodious than beautiful, set on a fifty-foot lot.  At that time Sherman Avenue extended north only as far as Noyes Street, and the Boker house, being the last in line, seemed to her a jumping off place.  To the east unbroken country stretched as far as Lake Michigan which lapped the shores of the University campus.  To the south a once impressive but now abandoned stone house leered at the passerby.  Tales of ghosts that haunted its halls on windy nights made it a rendezvous for fraternity initiations, and lone maidens at dusk hurried past it porticos.  To the west and a block back from the house, the St. Paul railroad ran a spur of the track that terminated at the neighborhood depot.

Mother made a quick survey of the prospects, but her letters begged us to await a verdict till she returned.  When the train rolled into Springfield we were all at the depot and soon had all the details.  Her description of the fair with its gleaming gold and white Court of Honor, the crown jewels, not to mention the exhibits of Tiffany and Marmod and Jacquard, made my jewelry-loving soul yearn; the lure of university halls paled beside such splendor.

Mother attended the Exposition alone and her description of her naivete on one occasion gave us a good laugh.  She had left the grounds late at night and was about to board a train to go downtown.  When she opened her purse at the ticket window she discovered that she was without change.  Mother never carried bills in her purse.  She pinned them to her clothes with safety pins.  When she finally pushed the twenty dollar bill in the window the ticket-man examined it closely then said:

“Haven’t you anything smaller?”

 

“No, I haven’t,”

Mother replied

Picking it up the man disappeared from the window.  He was gone what Mother thought to be an unconscionably long time.  When he returned he put the money through the opening and said:

“I’m sorry, Madam, but I can’t change it.”

Mother took the bill in troubled silence.  Then rummaging desperately in a big shopping bag, from a stray fold she extracted a lone dime.  She was immensely relieved and checked herself through the turnstile to the platform, stepped aboard a waiting train and sat down.  Having her bill rejected threw doubts into her mind and shook her confidence.  Now she began to worry.  Mother’s gifts in that field are beyond appraisal and it took only a moment for her to decide that she had a counterfeit bill in her possession.  She knew the original bill was good, for it had come from the bank at home, but the ticket man had left the window and taken the bill with him and now she was convinced that he had substituted a spurious one for her good one.  The conductor called:

“All out.  End of the line,”

 

and Mother dragged her way out on to the street.  She was eight blocks from the Union depot – her next objective – and she was afraid to offer the bill that had been refused.  There was just one thing to do, walk.  It was close to midnight and the fear that the last train might leave before she could get to the depot prodded her.  She was not only frightened but also feeling terrifically sorry for herself.  Waves of self-pity were engulfing her.  As she hustled along over the cobblestones she cried, not softly or resignedly as a gentle-woman might, but protestingly.  Up and down the scale she wailed like a fire siren.  The streets were comparatively deserted but the depot was full of people when she arrived red-eyed and glum.  The sight of the crowd restored her confidence and she quickly decided to cheek it through.  With determination she barged up to the ticket window,

“Ten-ride to Evanston,”

 

she said brusquely and plumped down the dubious bill.  Without a quiver the ticket-man stamped the bard, counted out her change and handed it to her.  It was fairly breathtaking.  With the ticket in her palm and felling all at once silly and self-conscious, she walked through the train-shed and boarded the last coach for Evanston.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

In spite of her letters, Mother had made her mind up to accept Mrs. Boker’s offer long before she climbed off the train in North Springfield.  She refused, however, to promise Mary or me anything till she had called a family conference.  Neither of us had been outside the state for years.  As a matter of fact we had so seldom left town that those absences stood out like oaths in a church and were easily listed.  Mary’s visit to West Plains was tied up with watermelon rinds.  Uncle Dave had given her money to buy a watermelon and on the way home she had dropped in on the sidewalk and had a frightening rush with a melon-hungry pig whose lucky day it happened to be.  Then - once I had had my innocence transferred to a porcelain plaque by a painter in Eureka Springs.  Our last journey had been to a Christian Endeavor Conference in Carthage.  I wasn’t likely to forget that one, for I made my debut as a young lady on the main street of the town when the desirable catch of the city had spirited me on a buggy ride.  He was much older than I.  His younger brother had been showing me the sights in his ‘local way’ when the society gent like bold Lochinvar had swept me away behind his spirited nag.  The shock of it fairly bowled me over for up to that moment I had never worn a nose-veil or carried a powder puff.

Powder puffs and nose-veils marked the dividing line between girlhood and young ladyhood in my Emily Post.  After that zipping whirl when I hung my on to my hat as we dusted the countryside, I was convinced that I had cracked through my chrysalis and emerged.  Now that city life loomed ahead (for the family conference had given the green signal) I decided I would adopt veils, powder, perfume, all the glamorizing accessories I could muster for city service.  I would swish through Evanston music halls leaving an intoxicating perfume to disturb or satisfy.  The prospect made me giggle, for marriage was so absurdly far away from my present ambitions that I couldn’t be sober about it.  I remember deciding very simply that since it was a girl’s lot to meekly wait to be picked off by some eager male, that surely there could be no harm in filling the interstices with a few minor experiments in research to determine how potent my influence over the sterner sex might be, sort of ‘Man proposes, Woman disposes,’ style.

Our closing days were crowded with hurried errands.  There were last church services to attend and visits to hallowed spots, each touched was a rose colored halo because we would know its haunts no more.  Our friends, too, seemed reluctant to see us go and warned us of the pitfalls lurking in a big city.  We were singularly unafraid.

Late in September when the leaves were rattling down and our trunks aboard the train, Mother, Mary, stout Bertha and I waved our last good-byes.  Tears blurred the scene.  Off in the distance the locusts, whose cry is my theme-song of Missouri, droned in the hot stillness.  I thought of Evanston, so cool we'd’ never need thin dresses (according to the folders) and as I mopped my face with my hanky, my spirits lifted.

The conductor called:

“All aboard,”

 

and the trainbell clanged.  As we moved slowly out of the station, Dell Eberhardt’s challenging comment,

“Una’s sure to land a rich husband,”

 

caromed through my mind.

“Much Dell knows about it!”

 

I thought, but the idea that I could was not so distasteful.  It flushed my cheeks slightly.  I pushed my new hatpin in place, pulled the fresh veil over my pink nose, and settled myself for a new horizon.  It should be an exciting one, synchronized with music, and redolent of an April night seventeen years ago.

I could scarcely wait to take a peep at the misty thing tied in ribbons that lay in my lap.  In some subtle way I seemed to know that there in my own hands, rested my future.

 

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