Here’s another excerpt from my forthcoming book. (Damn. Saying that NEVER gets old.) Still plugging away at it in fits and starts. The storyboard is laid out, and I’m about 10-15% through the first draft. At this pace it should be complete next summer. Then begins the decision to either self publish, or walk the Via Dolorosa of rejection letters from publishers.
They continue their tour, until the entire house has been explored, and then the girls run off to do it all over again. Jennie and Newt stand together on the back step, and look out at the yard. The lot is narrow and deep, just 30 feet wide, but stretching over 300 feet from the street. Lined with trees, and the neighbor’s lilac bushes in full bloom, it fairly radiates green in the bright sunshine.
“It’s a bit wild at the moment, but once we hire a gardener, it should shape up quite nicely” Rowell says.
“Newt, do you really think it will make a difference?” Jennie asks, looking out at the wild grass growing knee deep, and the lilac bushes so laden with blossoms that they bend near the ground. “I mean this move. Do you think it will change things between us?”
Rowell pauses, then turning to her says “Jennie, you know how much I love you. I wouldn’t have brought us here if I didn’t think it would help.”
“I know you say it” Jennie answers, “but it is not as simple as that. We may be able to leave it behind, but that doesn’t mean that it can be forgotten.”
“Dear, I can forget it.” Rowell says “Having you here, away from that man will make a difference. Just wait and you will see. Soon you will forget him as well.”
Jennie pauses in silence. They have had this conversation so many times already there seems little point in continuing it. How can she make him know how empty she feels? After eight years of marriage and two children, they have grown more distant than ever. Sometimes he seems more at ease in the presence of the children than he does alone with her. Is it her fault?
The days and the nights she spent alone while he was setting up the factory in Batavia were interminable. A social pariah, she had become nothing more than a mad woman locked in a tower. Perhaps getting away from Utica will be good if for no other reason than to escape the confines of that corseted prison.
“Come, let’s go back inside and get out of this sun.” Rowell says, breaking the spell. “The luggage shall be arriving soon. I will leave you and the girls to look after it while I get back to the office. The King’s have invited us over for tea this evening, so you will want to freshen up beforehand.”
Jennie goes upstairs to find the girls, as Rowell walks back to the box factory on Main Street. In a little while the wagon arrives carrying their luggage. The workmen carry the steamer trunks upstairs, and Jennie sets to work unpacking the clothes. The girls unpack their dolls and play quietly in the parlor, setting up the tea service, and pretending to host a party. In its own way this move feels like make believe to Jennie too. Unfolding the dresses, and hanging them in the wardrobe she could as easily have been a little girl playing with her dolls. Straightening the petticoats, and smoothing the folds in the crinoline, she imagines this home to be nothing but a life sized doll house. Growing up in her parents’ house in Clayville she had always dreamed of having a house of her very own, a brownstone with ivy covered walls, on a bustling street in a big city. When she was six her father had brought her along on a business trip to Albany, and she remembered the brick homes that stood shoulder to shoulder, as the footfalls of hooves echoed alone the cobble stone streets. She knew right then that she wanted to live her life in the city. To live in a place where there was constant motion.
When she had first met Newt in Utica she was 19, and felt as if she was going to burst if she did not get out of Clayville. Her father introduced them as Newt had been working as a bookkeeper at her father’s machine shop. A grown man of 28, with his waxed mustache, and his formal mannerisms, he had seemed the model of a refined city man. Yet he spoke to her so timid, and tenderly, she felt at times as if he were a shy boy of 17.
On the night they met, she heard him on the front porch, smoking cigars, and discussing business with her father. She stood there in the darkness listening to their conversation below, and wondering what his life in Utica must be like. From the window of her darkened room above the porch, she heard him formally asking her father if he could return again to call on her.
His visits became a weekly occurrence after that. He’d come out to Clayville on a horse each Sunday after church, and they would spend the day together sitting on the porch talking, or going for long walks in the countryside. Walking those dusty roads through the country side, she would pick lilies from the ditch bank, and bring them home to place in a vase on the dining room table. He would walk in silence beside her, asking her questions about her life, and what she hoped to do of it. He spoke little of himself, but was content to listen to her talk for hours about her hopes and plans for the future.
When dinner was over he would excuse himself from the table, and put on his coat to leave, then standing on the front step he would look into her eyes and ask solemnly if it would be alright for him to come visit again the next week. She would giggle, then roll her eyes, and say “If you must. I suppose it would be.”
His sincerity was both disarming, and amusing to her. As the weeks passed she came to find herself looking forward to his visits. He was so much more refined and scholarly than the farm boys about the town. Regardless of the weather he always arrived in a coat and hat, with a flower in a lapel. He was quiet, but she commanded every moment of his attention. Even sitting at dinner with her parents discussing business or the weather, his eyes never seemed to leave her.
So she was surprised when one Sunday evening in the fall, as golden blades of sunlight cast long shadows across the field, Rowell turned to her and took her hand. Kneeling on one knee upon he asked her “Jennie, I would like nothing more than for you to marry me. Will you be my wife?”
For once she was speechless. Putting her hand over her mouth, she gasped, looking into his dark earnest eyes, wondering why she had underestimated him so. He moved slowly for sure, but she learned that day that once he set his heart upon something he would see it through immediately. She couldn’t do anything for a moment but nod her head up and down, searching for words, until he placed her hand against his mouth and kissed it, his mustache brushing against her skin like the bristles of a horsehair brush.
She laughed with delight, and when he stood, she threw her arms around his shoulders, drawing him close, and blushing. Watching from behind the lace curtains in the living room, her mother and father stepped out onto the porch to congratulate them. When she woke the next morning, it all seemed like a dream.
They were married the following September, and they moved into a rented house in Utica. Edna was born less than a year later. Her life quickly became that of a young mother, taking care of the baby at home, and preparing the house for his return each evening. Her dreams of travel were postponed even further when she became pregnant with Clara just 4 months after Edna was born. Rowell was still working as a bookkeeper at her Father’s business, but was looking for an opportunity to improve himself, and their place in life. He took a job working for A.S. Palmer, the father of a childhood friend, and before long had begun to learn the box making business. He accompanied the senior Palmer on his business trips to New York, and Boston, and Jennie found herself alone with the children in the evenings as well. Her mother was a great help to her, but it wasn’t just the work of raising two daughters that taxed her. She had envisioned a life of gaiety and parties in Utica when they were married, but now spent her evenings alone at home while Newt was traveling.
When she brought the subject up to him, he promised it would get better. Just a few more years and Palmer would retire, and then he would buy into the business as a partner with the son. William Palmer had been a friend since childhood, and they had already discussed their plans for the business. The younger Palmer was mechanically gifted, and was convinced that with a fresh investment of capital, they could double their output. Newt felt that his work now in learning the business, and making the contacts with key associates in the large Eastern cities would serve him well as a future owner. If she could just be patient, in a few years time they would be buying a house of their very own, and hiring a full time servant to help with the housework.
Jennie was despondent, but her mother counseled her to be patient. All young couples went through these times, and Rowell was a hard worker and a good provider. If she could just wait and see, in a few years they would be moving with the upper class of Utica. When the elder Palmer died unexpectedly in the winter of 1879, things did go as Newt had promised. The money he had saved allowed him to purchase a share of the business with the younger Palmer.
Soon their income improved, and she had money to buy nicer things. Her mother would watch the girls, and she would head into Albany while Newt was away on business, to shop at the stores along State Street. That was where she had first met Johnson.