Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
The Downfall of Abner Joyce
On one of the earliest days in April, Abner, gaunt and tottering, went home to Flatfield. Leverett Whyland's own carriage took him to the station and Medora Giles's own hands arranged his cushions and coverlets.
"Spring is spring everywhere," said Whyland; "but it's just a little worse right here than anywhere else. If you're going to pick up now, home's the place to do it."
"It's only three hours," said Abner. "I can stand that."
He shook Whyland's hand gratefully at parting and held Medora's with a firm pressure as long as he dared and longer than he realized. It was a pressure that seemed to recognise her at last as an individual woman, and what his hand did not say his face said and said clearly. And as soon as he was a man again his tongue should say something too, and say it more clearly still.
Medora's image travelled along with him on the dingy window-pane and intercepted all the well-beloved phenomena of earliest-awakening spring. One slide followed another, like the pictures of a magic lantern. Now she was pouring tea, now she was baking bread; sometimes she was playing the violin, sometimes--and oftenest--she was measuring medicines or on guard against draughts. In any event the sum total was a matchless assemblage of grace, charm, talent, sympathy, efficiency. "I am not worthy of her," he said humbly. "But I must have her," he added, with resolution. He was not the author of this ruthless masculine paradox.
After another month of rest and of home nursing Abner undertook a second tour (in Iowa and Wisconsin, this time) to make sure of his re-established health and to build up again his shattered finances,--for sickness, even in the lap of luxury, is expensive.
He had refused as considerately as he could an offer from Whyland himself to do literary work. The Pence-Whyland syndicate had lately secured control of one of the daily newspapers, and Whyland had suggested semi-weekly articles at Abner's own figure. But Abner could not quite bring himself to print in a sheet that was the open and avowed champion of privilege and corruption.
"You think you won't, then?" asked Whyland, at the door of the Pullman.
"I don't believe I can," replied Abner mournfully.
"Oh, yes, you can too," returned Whyland. "In a week or two more you'll be as strong as ever."
"I--I think I'd rather not," said Abner, tendering an apologetic hand.
He wrote to Medora endless plaints about the discomforts of country hotels; and she, remembering how he had once luxuriated in these very crudities--he had called them authentic, characteristic, and other long words ending in tic--smiled broadly. It seemed as if that fortnight in the Whyland house had finally done for him.
"He will become quite like the rest of us in time," she said;--"and in no great time, either!"
In the early days of June Abner spoke. Medora listened and considered.
"I am like Clytie Summers----" she began slowly.
"You are not a bit like her!" interrupted Abner, with all haste.
"In one respect," Medora finished: "when I get married I want to get married for good. As Clytie says, it is the most satisfactory way in the long run, and the long run is what I have in mind."
Abner flushed. "I can promise you that, I think."
"We will dismiss the new theory."
"If you demand it."
The idea of limited matrimonial partnership therefore passed away. Then there loomed up the question of an engagement-ring.
"You agree with me, I hope," said Abner, "that all these symbolical follies might very well be done away with?"
"No," said Medora firmly; "folly--sheer, utter folly--claims me for a month at least. And as for symbols, they are the very bread of the race, and I am as much of the human tribe as anybody else is."
A few days later Medora was wearing her engagement-ring.
This step accomplished, Abner felt himself free to scale down to a minimum the customary attentions of a courtship.
Medora protested. "You are no more than a man, and I am no less than a woman. You must give all that a man is expected to give and I must have all that a woman is accustomed to receive."
The engagement lasted through the summer, and Medora was married at the farm in October. Abner's parents came the thirty miles across country to their son's wedding. His father disclosed a singularly buoyant and expansive nature; he lived in the blessings the day brought forth, and considered not too deeply--as the poet once counselled--the questions that had kept his son in the fume and heat of unquenchable discussion. Mrs. Joyce was quiet, demure, rock-rooted in her self-respecting gravity--a sweet, sympathetic, winning little woman. She advanced at once into the bustle of the household, and it was plain that nature had endowed her with a fondness for work for work's very sake, and that she was proud of her own activity and thoroughness. Abner, everybody saw, was immensely wrapped up in her. "A man who makes such a good son," said Giles to his wife, "will make a good husband."
"I expect him to," said Medora, overhearing. "And I intend to put on the last few finishing touches myself."