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shortstoriesandessays_CharlottePerkinsGilman

By Brittany Hudson,2014-09-12 03:35
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shortstoriesandessays_CharlottePerkinsGilmansays

    ACCORDING TO SOLOMON

    "'He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favor than he that flattereth with his tongue,'" said Mr. Solomon Bankside to his wife Mary.

    "Its the other way with a woman, I think;" she answered him, "you might put that in."

"Tut, tut, Molly," said he; "'Add not unto his words,'do not speak lightly of the wisdom of the

    great king."

"I don't mean to, dear, butwhen you hear it all the time"

    "'He that turneth away his ear from the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination,'" answered Mr. Bankside.

    "I believe you know every one of those old Proverbs by heart," said his wife with some heat. "Now that's not disrespectful!they are old!and I do wish you'd forget some of them!"

    He smiled at her quizzically, tossing back his heavy silver-gray hair with the gesture she had always loved. His eyes were deep blue and bright under their bushy brows; and the mouth was kindin its iron way. "I can think of at least three to squelch you with, Molly," said he, "but I won't."

    "O I know the one you want! 'A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentions woman are alike!' I'm not contentious, Solomon!"

"No, you are not," he frankly admitted. "What I really had in mind was this'A prudent wife is

    from the Lord,' and 'He that findeth a wife findeth a good thing; and obtaineth favor of the Lord.'"

    She ran around the table in the impulsive way years did not alter, and kissed him warmly.

    "I'm not scolding you, my dear," he continued: "but if you had all the money you'd like to give awaythere wouldn't be much left!"

"But look at what you spend on me!" she urged.

    "That's a wise investmentas well as a deserved reward," her husband answered calmly. "'There is that scattereth and yet increaseth,' you know, my dear; 'And there is that withholdeth more than is meetand it tendeth to poverty!' Take all you get my dearits none too good for you."

    He gave her his goodby kiss with special fondness, put on his heavy satin-lined overcoat and went to the office.

    Mr. Solomon Bankside was not a Jew; though his last name suggested and his first seemed to prove it; also his proficiency in the Old Testament gave color to the idea. No, he came from Vermont; of generations of unbroken New England and old English Puritan ancestry, where the Solomons and Isaacs and Zedekiahs were only mitigated by the Standfasts and Praise-the-Lords. Pious, persistent pigheaded folk were they, down all the line.

    His wife had no such simple pedigree. A streak of Huguenot blood she had (some of the best in France, though neither of them knew that), a grandmother from Albany with a Van to her name; a great grandmother with a Mac; and another with an O'; even a German cross came in somewhere. Mr. Bankside was devoted to genealogy, and had been at some pains to dig up these factsthe more he found the worse he felt, and the lower ran his opinion of Mrs. Bankside's ancestry.

    She had been a fascinating girl; pretty, with the dash and piquancy of an oriole in a May apple-tree; clever and efficient in everything her swift hands touched; quite a spectacular housekeeper; and the sober, long-faced young downeasterner had married her with a sudden decision that he often wondered about in later years. So did she.

    What he had not sufficiently weighed at the time, was her spirit of incorrigible independence, and a light-mindedness which, on maturer judgment, he could almost term irreligious. His conduct was based on principle, all of it; built firmly into habit and buttressed by scriptural quotations. Hers seemed to him as inconsequent as the flight of a moth. Studying it, in his solemn conscientious way, in the light of his genealogical researches, he felt that all her uncertainties were accounted for, and that the error was hisin having married too many kinds

    of people at once.

    They had been, and were, very happy together none the less: though sometimes their happiness was a little tottery. This was one of the times. It was the day after Christmas, and Mrs. Bankside entered the big drawing room, redolent of popcorn and evergreen, and walked slowly to the corner where the fruits of yesterday were lovingly arranged; so few that she had been able to giveso many that she had received.

    There were the numerous pretty interchangeable things given her by her many friends; "presents," suitable to any lady. There were the few perfectly selected ones given by the few who knew her best. There was the rather perplexing gift of Mrs. MacAvelly. There was her brother's stiff white envelope enclosing a check. There were the loving gifts of children and grand-children.

Finally there was Solomon's.

    It was his custom to bestow upon her one solemn and expensive object, a boon as it were, carefully selected, after much thought and balancing of merits; but the consideration was spent on the nature of the gift-not on the desires of the recipient. There was the piano she could not play, the statue she did not admire, the set of Dante she never read, the heavy gold bracelet, the stiff diamond broochand all the others. This time it was a set of sables, costing even more than

she imagined.

    Christmas after Christmas had these things come to her; and she stood there now, thinking of that procession of unvalued valuables, with an expression so mixed and changeful it resembled a kaleidoscope. Love for Solomon, pride in Solomon, respect for Solomon's judgment and power to pay, gratitude for his unfailing kindness and generosity, impatience with his always giving her this one big valuable permanent thing, when he knew so well that she much preferred small renewable cheap ones; her personal dislike of furs, the painful conviction that brown was not becoming to herall these and more filled the little woman with what used to be called "conflicting emotions."

    She smoothed out her brother's check, wishing as she always did that it had come before Christmas, so that she might buy more presents for her beloved people. Solomon liked to spend money on herin his own way; but he did not like to have her spend money on himor on

    anyone for that matter. She had asked her brother once, if he would mind sending her his Christmas present beforehand.

    "Not on your life, Polly!" he said. "You'd never see a cent of it! You can't buy 'em many things right on top of Christmas, and it'll be gone long before the next one."

    She put the check away and turned to examine her queerest gift. Upon which scrutiny presently entered the donor.

    "I'm ever so much obliged, Benigna," said Mrs. Bankside. "You know how I love to do things. It's a loom, isn't it? Can you show me how it works?"

"Of course I can, my dear; that's just what I ran in forI was afraid you wouldn't know. But you

    are so clever with your hands that I'm sure you'll enjoy it. I do."

    Whereat Mrs. MacAvelly taught Mrs. Bankside the time-honored art of weaving. And Mrs. Bankside enjoyed it more than any previous handicraft she had essayed.

    She did it well, beginning with rather coarse and simple weaves; and gradually learning the finer grades of work. Despising as she did the more modern woolens, she bought real wool yarn of a lovely redand made some light warm flannelly stuff in which she proceeded to rapturously enclose her little grandchildren.

Mr. Bankside warmly approved, murmuring affectionately, "'She seeketh wool and flaxshe

    worketh willingly with her hands.'"

    He watched little Bob and Polly strenuously "helping" the furnace man to clear the sidewalk, hopping about like red-birds in their new caps and coats; and his face beamed with the appositeness of his quotation, as he remarked, "She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed with scarlet!" and he proffered an extra, wholly spontaneous

kiss, which pleased her mightily.

    "You dear man!" she said with a hug; "I believe you'd rather find a proverb to fit than a gold mine!"

    To which he triumphantly responded: "'Wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.'"

    She laughed sweetly at him. "And do you think wisdom stopped with that string of proverbs?"

    "You can't get much beyond it," he answered calmly. "If we lived up to all there is in that list we shouldn't be far out, my dear!"

    Whereat she laughed again smoothed his gray mane, and kissed him in the back of his neck. "You dear thing!" said Mrs. Bankside.

    She kept herself busy with the new plaything as he called it. Hands that had been rather empty were now smoothly full. Her health was better, and any hint of occasional querulousness disappeared entirely; so that her husband was moved to fresh admiration of her sunny temper, and quoted for the hundredth time, "'She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.'"

    Mrs. MacAvelly taught her to make towels. But Mrs. Bankside's skill outstripped hers; she showed inventive genius and designed patterns of her own. The fineness and quality of the work increased; and she joyfully replenished her linen chest with her own handiwork.

    "I tell you, my dear," said Mrs. MacAvelly, "if you'd be willing to sell them you could get almost any price for those towels. With the initials woven in. I know I could get you ordersthrough the

    Woman's Exchange, you know!"

    Mrs. Bankside was delighted. "What fun!" she said. "And I needn't appear at all?"

"No, you needn't appear at alldo let me try."

    So Mrs. Bankside made towels of price, soft, fine, and splendid, till she was weary of them; and in the opulence of constructive genius fell to devising woven belts of elaborate design.

    These were admired excessively. All her women friends wanted one, or more; the Exchange got hold of it, there was a distinct demand; and finally Mrs. MacAvelly came in one day with a very important air and a special order.

    "I don't know what you'll think, my dear," she said, "but I happen to know the Percy's very wellthe big store people, you know; and Mr. Percy was talking about those belts of yours to me;of course he didn't know they are yours; but he said (the Exchange people told him I knew,

    you see) he said, 'If you can place an order with that woman, I can take all she'll make and pay her full price for them. Is she poor?' he asked. 'Is she dependent on her work?' And I told him, 'Not altogether.' And I think he thinks it an interesting case! Anyhow, there's the order. Will you do it?'

    Mrs. Bankside was much excited. She wanted to very much, but dreaded offending her husband. So far she had not told him of her quiet trade in towels; but hid and saved this precious moneythe first she had ever earned.

    The two friends discussed the pros and cons at considerable length; and finally with some perturbation, she decided to accept the order.

    "You'll never tell, Benigna!" she urged. "Solomon would never forgive me, I'm afraid."

"Why of course I won'tyou needn't have a moment's fear of it. You give them to meI'll stop

    with the carriage you see; and I take them to the Exchangeand he gets them from there."

    "It seems like smuggling!" said Mrs. Bankside delightedly. "I always did love to smuggle!"

"They say women have no conscience about laws, don't they?" Mrs.

    MacAvelly suggested.

"Why should we?" answered her friend. "We don't make 'emnor Godnor nature. Why on

    earth should we respect a set of silly rules made by some men one day and changed by some more the next?"

"Bless us, Polly! Do you talk to Mr. Bankside like that?"

    "Indeed I don't!" answered her hostess, holding out a particularly beautiful star-patterned belt to show to advantage. "There are lots of things I don't say to Mr. Bankside'A man of

    understanding holdeth his peace' you knowor a woman."

    She was a pretty creature, her hair like that of a powdered marchioness, her rosy checks and firm slight figure suggesting a charmer in Dresden china.

    Mrs. MacAvelly regarded her admiringly. "'Where there is no wood the fire goeth out; so where there is no tale bearer the strife ceaseth,'" she proudly offered, "I can quote that much myself."

    But Mrs. Bankside had many misgivings as she pursued her audacious way; the busy hours flying away from her, and the always astonishing checks flying toward her in gratifying accumulation. She came down to her well-planned dinners gracious and sweet; always effectively dressed; spent the cosy quiet evenings with her husband, or went out with him, with a manner of such increased tenderness and charm that his heart warmed anew to the wife of his youth; and he