Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
The Downfall of Abner Joyce
Medora, long before Abner had learned to work the pedals of the pianola and to wrench any expression from its stops, had banished most of her "rolls" from sight. "Siegfried's Funeral March" was unintelligible to him; the tawdry, meretricious Italian overtures filled him with disgust. In the end the two confined themselves to patriotic airs and old-time domestic ditties. Medora accompanied on her second-best violin (which was kept at the farm) and Abner enjoyed a heart-warming sense of doing his full share in "Tenting Tonight" or "Lily Dale." The girl's parents had advanced far beyond this stage, but willingly relapsed into it now and then for Auld Lang Syne.
The final roll wound up with a quick snap.
"Well, you haven't told me what you thought of that last chapter," said Abner, putting the roll back in its box. He made no demand on Medora's interest to the exclusion of that of the others, however. His general glance around invited comment from any quarter. He had merely looked at her first.
"M--no," said Medora.
The girl, a few weeks before, had looked over The Rod of the Oppressor. The Rod's force had made itself felt most largely on economics; but in its blossoming it had put forth a few secondary sprigs, and one of these curled over in the direction of domestic life, of marital relation. Abner's chivalry--a chivalry totally guiltless of gallantry--had gone out to the suffering wife doomed to a lifelong yoking with a cruel, coarse-natured husband: must such a yoking be lifelong? he asked earnestly. Was it not right and just and reasonable that she should fly (with or without companion)--nor be too particular over the formalities of her departure? Medora had smiled and shaken her head; but now the question somehow seemed less remote than before. She paused over this bird-like irresponsibility and rather wondered that it should have the power to detain her.
The new chapters of Regeneration had taken up the same matter and had displayed it in a somewhat different light. Abner had got hold of the idea of limited partnership and had sought to apply it, in roundabout fashion, to the matrimonial relation. His treatment, far from suggesting an academic aloofness, was as concrete as characterization and conversation could make it; no one would have supposed, at first glance, that what chiefly moved him was a chaste abstract Platonic regard for the whole gentler sex. In short, people--such seemed to be his thesis--might very advantageously separate, and most informally too, as soon as they discovered they were incompatible.
"M--no," said Medora.
"Wouldn't that be rather upsetting?" asked her mother. Mrs. Giles was an easy-going old soul, from whom art, as personified by her own children, got slight consideration, and to whom literature, as embodied in a stranger, was little less than a joke. "Wouldn't it result in a good deal of a mix-up? What would have happened to you youngsters if your father and I had all at once taken it into our heads to----"
"Mother!" said Medora.
"Oh, well," began Mrs. Giles, with the idea of making a gradual descent after her sudden aerial flight. "But, then," she resumed, "you must see that----"
"Mother!" said Medora again. Abner, eager to defend his thesis, looked round in surprise.
"I agree with Mrs. Giles completely," spoke up Clytie, with much promptitude. "When I get married I want to get married for good. Most of the people I know are married in that way, and I believe it's the most satisfactory way in the long run----"
"But----" began Abner polemically.
Clytie shook her head. "No, it won't do. You've offered us the ballot, and we don't want it. And you've offered us--this, and we don't want that either. Consider it declined."
Abner stared at Clytie's brazen little face and disliked her more than ever.
"But don't you think----" began Abner, turning to Bond.
Bond shook his head slowly and made no comment.
Abner looked round at Medora. She was ranging the music-roll boxes in an orderly row. Nobody could have been more intent upon her work.
"Well, it stands, all the same," said Abner defiantly.