A Life of Unity, and Other Stories
by Frank J. Cheney
Published by Blade Printing & Paper Co., Toledo, Ohio, 1901.
In the extreme northeastern part of the great commonwealth of Ohio is a quiet little village of about one hundred people. Not being large enough to be have a legal name of its own, or to be placed on the map, it never received a name except that given it by the surrounding country.
They call it "Little Hope." Just why should they call it "Little Hope" I never knew, and it does not matter.
If it were not for this hamlet, or some of the people living in it, this bit of history might have never been told. The writer, then a teacher in the only school they had, became acquainted with the main characters in this story, and has waited thirty-five years before telling it; therefore he is liable to overlook some of the facts - as they are facts - but will relate his experience as he can remember.
The persons described in this story lived in a two-story English basement house, in fact the only brick house in the village. It was situated on an elevation overlooking Lake Erie and most of the surrounding country. The lawns surrounding were beautifully laid out. A brick walk led from the front gate to the house and through the garden of rare flowers, foliage, and fruit. The walk and garden were in artistic design. The house, while not a new one, appeared to have excellent care.
The surrounding showed refinement and taste, and would indicate that the occupants were above the ordinary in intellect and character.
As the teacher it was my duty to call on them, and one day I did so. As I was going up the walk the gentleman of the house came down to meet me.
“I am the teacher, and though I would make you a call,” I began.
“I am very glad you have, sir,” said Mr. Buck, who lived there.
Mr. Buck was a good looking man of about sixty-five years of age, with long wavy hair, so long that it almost covered his shoulders. He was nearly six feet tall, and straight; a man that would be noticed anywhere for his distinguished appearance.
“Come in and take a chair. I am glad to have you to call, as we do not have too much company nowadays. This room, as you can see, is my workshop.”
There were two or three flat tables in the room, covered with parchment and paper, bottles of black and colored ink, pencils, pens, and drawing instruments.
After talking in subjects in general for a few minutes, Mr. Buck gave me his idea on marriage and divorce laws, and if you will allow me I will relate what he said as nearly as I can remember.
“Young man, I have no confidence in the marriage we have these days. There seems to be no sincerity about them. People seem to marry for passion, not love. Passion is a fire that can be kindled at will, put out and lighted again. It resembles love in some things, and is often palmed off on the innocent and unsuspecting for love; but it is not love, and no marriage contract that is based on this, as many of them are, will stand, and hence - divorce.”
“Divorce is not only a sing against man, but God I never yet have seen an applicant for divorce who was not a moral coward and a greater sinner that the defendant, no matter what he may have done. People marry, knowing themselves to be impure and divorced. What can you expect from such unions? They are willing to submit to this union until the fire is extinguished, or the world know, and then they rebel. They were no worse for being found out than before, but this veil of deceit between them is burned away, and they see each other in their true light.
“No pure-minded Christian people who fear God, have nothing but good in their hearts and marry for love, ever think of divorce. It is a violation of the most sacred law. Think of a women who registers an oath in heaven that she will love, honor and obey, and the man that he will take her for better or for worse, as his lawful wife until death, because of some misunderstanding, or the real character of either ( that they themselves knew about ) should be made public, be willing to sacrifice that oath for selfish motives. It is nothing but pride of people whose hearts are false as ‘stairs of sand,’ and who own lives are steeped in sin.
“I have never yet seen an applicant for divorce who was not the greater sinner of the two; this very act alone would make him so. No matter what their external appearance maybe, no matter what the condition in life is, or their position in society, it is the nature of things that they must be naturally corrupt or they would respect their oath in heaven if not on earth.”
“Laws are not perfect by any means. The marriage law should be the most sacred and prefect of all laws. Laws are supposed to be based on divine principle, and the nearer the human mind can make them conform to the principle, the better laws we have. The marriage law is the essence of the divine principle, as near as man can make it, and, therefore, anyone attempting to break this law is corrupt, and a sinner against man and God, and should be punished accordingly.
“I was married in heaven, not by human laws, but by the divine law of love, that knows of no such thing as divorce; and have registered an oath that is as lasting as the ages and cannot be broken. We are sworn to always live together, not only on this earth but through eternity. When she dies, I die; when I die, she dies; neither will leave this earth without each other. We have no individual pleasures or sorrows - no individual thoughts. What she thinks, I think; what I think, she thinks. When she says a thing is right,, I say it is right. When I say a thing is wrong, she says it is wrong. When I am sad, she is sad. When she is sad, I am sad. When she is happy, I am happy. When I am sick, she is sick. When she is well, I am well.”
“So you will see we have a union founded in heaven on the divine laws, and we are virtually living a life of unity, without any restrictions or hindrance - a life which allows each to execute the work laid out for us. I have Mrs. Buck’s full co-operation in everything I undertake, and therefore no failure.”
“She has my undivided support in everything she does, therefore success. We are in perfect harmony with each other in thought, action and deed. When I am trying to master some complex mathematical problem, she is always by my side assisting me. When I am trying to put on paper the different mechanical devices which I plan, she is by me steadying my hand, until, as you see, they are as perfect as etchings or engravings on copper plate.”
“Young man, I like you, or I would not have told you so much about my life. I am very busy just now, and shall be the rest of the afternoon, on some work which I must finish, so if you will excuse me, and call this evening and take tea, Mrs. Buck will also be glad to see you.”
Evening called, I called at the house and Mrs. Buck seemed pleased to see me. After introducing myself, Mrs. Buck said that Mr. Buck would have to be excused for his absence, but she too special delight in entertaining his friends and acquaintances.
I should judge Mrs. Buck to be about sixty years of age, tall and straight, with hair somewhat gray. She wore four large curls, two one either side of her face, which I thought made her face look longer than it actually was. She wore a nice-fitting calico dress, white apron, and a cap with large strings tied under her chin, making in all a very quaint, pretty picture. She had large blue eyes and a good face, voice pleasing to hear, except at times perhaps a little heavy or masculine. Her face would indicate thought, wisdom and kindness, withal a pleasant person, full of life, and as chatty as a leading society women.
“Our tea is ready,” she said. “Take a chair on the opposite side of the table please. Mr. Buck cannot be with is this evening, so we will have to dine without him.”
After declaring my regrets for his absence, and listening with bowed head to thankful offering to “Him who so bountifully provides for all our needs,” I heard some one rap on the door. Mrs. Buck excused herself, and after looking in the mirror and arranging her curls, went to the door. It was a neighbor girl come to call. Mrs. Buck introduced me, and insisted upon the young lady taking tea with us, which she did.
The meal being over, Mrs. Buck said that Mr. Buck requested her to ask me to call on him the following afternoon, as he would have his work completed by four o’ clock, and would be pleased to show it to me.
“He might feel hurt if you do not come, as he likes you very much,” she continued.
I assured Mrs. Buck that I fully appreciated the compliment, and would be there at that time.
“Mr. Buck is quite pronounced in some of his ideas,” I ventured to say.
“Yes, he is on marriage and divorce, especially on divorce,’ she answered. “It is about the only subject, outside of his profession, that he talks on so positively. I feel as he does about that. I think people should never secure divorces. The divorce law should be stricken off the books; there should be no laws on divorce. Such cases should not be allowed in courts, as they are an insult to justice and decency.” “Mr. Buck is a very busy man. He is employed by the government to complete some drawings of plans which were left unfinished by their chief engineer of mechanical science when he died about two years ago, and Mr. Buck seems to be the only one they can find to complete the work. It will be finished to-morrow. The government offered him the position of chief. If he accepted he would have had to move to Washington, but this he would not do, as it might disturb our plan of living. We get along beautifully. No women is treated better than I am. All my desires are fulfilled without asking. My needs are not very great, but if they were it would make no difference to him; he would go to the end of the world for me, to satisfy a simple whim or notion.”
“You, no doubt, would do the same for him,” I suggested.
“Yes, I would. My household duties require so much time that I cannot assist him as much as I should. I try to make him comfortable and happy. He enjoys the things I do - likes my housekeeping and cooking. I consider it the duty of every women to see that her husband has a quiet, pleasant home, free from disturbances and trouble. When she has this and devoted her undivided life to him, she is as much entitled to share in his success and glory as he is. Women have a wonderful influence over men for good or bad. Many a good man has been ruined by his wife’s not considering his needs or requirements. She can relieve him of many cares if she only will. I also believe that many men would be better off if they would place more confidence in their wives, and take their advice at times.”
“Mr. Buck tells me everything he does or thinks. We talk his business matters over and confide in each other. I never even buy a new dress, bonnet, or anything for the house, without consulting him. He never buys a hat, necktie, mittens or a suit of clothes that he does not consult me. We get great pleasure from this and are both satisfied. Many men think their wives fool about business, and I suppose they are ignorant about the details of almost every kind of business; but if a husband will take a little time to show his wife what he is trying to accomplish, he will be surprised how quickly she will grasp the idea.”
“Women’s intuitive nature is great. She may not always be able to give you a connected reason, but will tell you at a glance whether your plan will be a success or not. You ask her why she thinks so, and she will merely say she knows it. This makes the weak, foolish man angry and stubborn, so stubborn that he sometimes continued until he finds out for himself that his wife was right, and often regrets that he did not take her advice.”
“How do you account for this intuitive knowledge you speak of?” I asked.
“I can only account for it in one way. It is a divine gift. Men have it but do not heed it. Women have been looked down upon by the stronger sex ever since the world began. I lay the fault to Eve. She did not do quite the proper thing, or she would have showed more strength of character on the start. You see Eve acted a little imprudent and unwise. Adam, finding out that he could make her obey, established a president that has stood ever since. That being a fact, women has to rely upon her natural intuition for conclusions, as she has not been allowed to reason. Men rely upon reason and argument, as they call it, and therefore neglect to consult their natural intuitive gifts of honesty and right.”
“Ninety-nine times out of one hundred mans arguments and reasons are false, and the result is failure. Intuition is a divine gift, therefore honest and right. Reason and argument are human and full of error. Mr. Buck feels as I do about this, so takes my advice on every business proposition. If he cannot make his judgment conform to this, he does not undertake this work, so you see we often work together in harmony. Often women’s work requires more thought, judgment, and patience than does a man’s work. A housekeeper has to be a chemist in cooking, a mechanic in making clothes, bookkeeper, engineer, conductor, farmer, purchasing agent, milliner, day-laborer, and entertainer, all at one time; so she has not much time to reason, but has to rely upon her quick intuitive gifts, or she would never get through with her innumerable duties.”
“I will have to go now, Mrs. Buck, if you will excuse me. I have enjoyed the evening very much indeed, and will surely call on Mr. Buck about four o’ clock to-morrow afternoon. I will escort you home, Miss X., if you will allow me.”
As we were about to go, Mrs. Buck requested Miss X. to accompany her to town ( which was about two miles distant ) the next morning, to make some purchases. She said she needed a new gown and bonnet, and like the judgment of younger people in making her selections. Mr. Buck, she said, had suggested her wearing a little more color.
“He thinks a few white roses, a bunch of violets, or some China asters would look well on a bonnet and become me. It is some time since I have had a new bonnet, so have concluded to have some flowers on it. It is a woman’s duty to look as well as she can. This keeps her proud and makes her better. Some people respect her more, especially strangers as they judge a person by appearances. I really think it does show character. Clothes do not make one morally better, but one is more pleasing to the eyes of their friends. We surely should not offend our friends by wearing shabby clothes. Mr. Buck loves to see me well dressed, and seems to be even more proud of me then, if possible.”
“I believe you are right, Mrs. Buck. The hour is late, so I will have to go.” After bidding her good-night I escorted Miss X. home.
I went to my room and commenced to think about the day and of the Bucks. “What peculiar people they are! What a man he is and what beautiful work he does - a mathematician and artist and engineer - proud and dignified. He must have ability, or the government would not employ him. I never saw such a man before in my life, and such a character! He gives the divorce laws no quarter. I wonder if he has ever been jilted or had any experience that set him so against them. He says that his marriage is registered in heaven - no human law married him. Is it possible that they are not married? That would be awful. What if the neighbors knew this - what would they do? They look somewhat alike. Maybe they are brother and sister - twins, perhaps.”
“He says, ‘When she dies, I die; when she is sick, I am sick,’ etc., etc. I never heard of twins being affected this way, and twins never think of the same thing at once. They are about the same height, and have the same blue eyes. It must be that they are brother and sister. If they are, how could they be married? The law would not permit it. He says they are married in heaven, and our laws have no control over them - how can that be?”
“he must be crazy. When I stop to think, he must be a lunatic. I wonder if she knows what he says about them.”
“Perhaps he has moments he has moments of insanity when he does not know what he is talking about, an imagines all this, and there is no truth in what he says. It would place her in a very embarrassing position, if she knew what he said and it is all false. She seems to think of Mr. Buck as she does of herself, and he loves her the same. I wonder what the facts are. I have access to their home, so if there is any honorable way to ascertain what their relations are, I will do it.”
Being a stranger there, I made up my mind that the best thing for me to do was to keep quiet about what I thought or saw. I concluded to keep my eyes open and solve this mystery if possible.
Four in the afternoon the next day found me in his room with full determination to find out if the man were crazy or not; and also their true relationship. After passing the time of day, he showed me the drawings he had completed for the government. They were the most perfect hand drawings I had ever seen. I apologized for keeping Mrs. Buck from him so long the night before, as I knew I had retarded his work. He did not answer this.
“She entertained us so nicely,” I continued, “ that I could not leave sooner, and really did not want to go when I did.” “I am very glad indeed that Mrs. Buck entertained to you so well. You see the women have so many things to attend to that they cannot always entertain as they would like to. I would much rather do my work, hard as it is, than women’s work. I do only one thing at a time and they do many. Yes, I have received many compliments for my drawings. Mrs. Buck is entitled to an equal share, but women, you know, seldom get much praise. Compliments are empty gifts - they do not compensate; love of the work is what pays us - we are so happy in doing it.”
“I think, Mr. Buck, you must be happy most of the time, then, judging from the amount if work I see around here. Is not Mrs. Buck a little jealous of your loving work so much and necessarily neglecting her?” “No, my boy, she loves the work same as I do and is with me all the time. As I told you she does as much of it as I do. I love it because it is her handiwork and part of her.”
I thought I would change the subject, so I asked him how long they had been married. He said they had been married a great many years.”
“Mrs. Buck was born the same day I was, at the same time. We are just of an age to a minute, and they happy part of it is that we shall always live together.”
“Has Mrs. Buck returned from her shopping expedition.”
“Yes, she returned about noon, and if you will call this evening about seven, she will not only be glad to see you, but will show you her purchases.”
After again complimenting him upon his work, I assured him I would call in the evening.
As I was walking home, I thought of what he had told me. He did not tell when or where they were married - only said he had known his wife for a great many years, and that they were both of the same age to the very minute. Now, how could this be, and how could they know if it were true? The case was getting more complex and more interesting all the time. What an honest face he had! He could not falsify a thing of this kind, and I did not think he was crazy. Why was he so opposed to our divorce laws? I made up my mind I would not say anything to the neighbors about my visits there. Being a stranger, I did not know what they would say, and surely did not want to have them any unkind thoughts, as I had at times about the Bucks, or arouse any suspicion as to their not being married according to the laws. They had treated me well, and I thought it would be unjust to treat them otherwise, so I said nothing, but resolved to keep up the search.
At seven I called and Mr. Buck admitted me. He said Mrs. Buck was not in at present, but would be in a few minutes.
“It is time she was here now, so if you will excuse me, I will go and call her.”
After waiting a few minutes, Mrs. Buck came in. I told her how glad I was to see the work that Mr. Buck had just finished. She seemed to be pleased that I liked it, and she said she hoped he could have a few days’ rest, as he needed it very much.
“Mr. Buck will not be here this evening, so I will show you the purchases that Miss X. and myself made this morning as soon as she comes.”
“Do I understand you that Mr. Buck is not well?” I asked.
“A little overworked,” she replied.
“I am sorry to hear it, and trust my visits have not done him harm.”
“No,” she said, “he is very pleased to have you come, and seems to feel better for it.”
At this point Miss X. came in, and they commenced to untie the different packages. “How do you like my new dress?” Mrs. Buck said, holding it up so the light would strike it, and placing one edge under her chin. “How does it become my complexion?”
“Lovely,” we responded.
“Mrs. Buck, I can hardly wait to see that new bonnet on you,” Miss X. said.
After arranging her curls before the glass, Mrs. Buck put it on. We both declared it very becoming.
She stood before the mirror, shifting and moving the bonnet from one side of her head to the other, then forward and back, and finally placed it square on top.
“I think I like it best worn on top of the head, as a hat should be worn,” she said, “instead of way over in the front, as the milliner suggested. I saw a women with a hat covered with flowers. There must have been a hundred on it. She wore it on the back of her head, and it stuck straight up in the air about a foot. It made me think of the gates-ajar floral piece I saw at Mr. Jones funeral the other day.”
“You should not jest about floral pieces,” Miss X. said, “it is a bad omen.”
“I do not like that style, as call it, but I do like this,” said Mrs. Buck.
After admiring herself in the glass she continued to inspect her purchases, which consisted of lace-trimmed handkerchiefs, spools of thread, button, etc. A pair of hose dropped on the floor from the package. She seemed to be much embarrassed over this, but picked them up and took them away without comment.
“Which dressmaker do you employ?” I asked.
“I make all my own dresses and do all my own sewing, knit my own mittens and those for Mr. Buck. We can not buy as good as I can make. I make all trimmings, such as tatting, ruffles for my white clothes, etc.”
At this she stepped to the mirror again, and observed:
“The milliner told me I ought to use some powder and sold me a box. She said it was pure and all the ladies used it.”
“Let me put it on you, Mrs. Buck,” said Miss X., which she did, and Mrs. Buck seemed well pleased with the end result, and was now constantly before the mirror admiring herself.
I inquired about Mr. Buck, and she said he would be working in the garden to-morrow, if he felt better, and would be pleased to see me, as he was going to make some changes and would like my advice.
Miss X. suggested that Mrs. Buck looked tired and worn-out, and that we had better go. We then started home. I left her at one of her neighbors and went direct to my home, not much wiser than when I started.
Mrs. Buck surely was not crazy, and she never had given me to think that she thought Mr. Buck anything but the wisest and best of men.
I called the next day and saw Mr. Buck sitting at the window. He said he had been ill all night; and there was nothing I could do for him. I new he was in good hands, as Mrs. Buck would attend to him.
I called the next day. There was a crape on the door. A neighbor was there and told me that Mr. Buck had died about two o’clock that morning. I inquired about Mrs. Buck, and he said she dies at the same time.
Mr. and Mrs. Buck had in truth lived a life of unity. They were the one and same person.