Hammersmith: The Modern Girl’s View of Marriage (chapter four)
Hogben tried singing counterpoint to the melody—
Got absorbed in the challenge, started over, switched to “Nearer My God to Thee”. He fell silent, the hymn reminding him to plan. They had always begun a show that way, with a prayer and a song. Brought the audience together, gave them a sense of common purpose, one that with luck would carry forward. Was there any reason the Professor couldn’t be, this one time, present in spirit?
“As my late partner…always used liking to say…”
Hogben spoke aloud, acted the little catch, the timbre of his voice made fond and regretful. His shoes scudded over greening weedy stuff. He noted tiny flowers, a mound of them in a sunny patch warmed by the bridge abutment. Too puny to make a nosegay. But it was a thought…if he wasn’t wrong about Mrs. Bard, he’d get more mileage from a bunch of chickweed than Shaw from running her errands.
Hogben started. A head of disheveled hair, and a mud-smeared chin and nose, emerged from the underside, near where Hogben had proposed to do his meditating. The rest began to come out, and what showed earliest was clad in an undershirt.
“Sir, I…may I ask you, will you… Go!” The young man gestured. He rose, clearing the arch, and stood in full, clutching the band of his trousers. “And, for a minute, wait on the road? Please.”
“Mr. Hogben!” The voice was Minnie Leybourne’s. “Is that you? Don’t go!”
Hogben had been prepared to hightail it. He had to debate with himself, whether in such circumstances a lady’s preference still must be obeyed—and the chance to decide got away from him. Minnie came from under the bridge, fixing on her hat. Her skirts bore the sort of debris that might gather if lying on a patch of ground (cloth or occupant, Hogben was not judging); her state of dress otherwise was more presentable than her comrade’s.
Minnie was a lyric soprano. Nico vibrated like a wine glass, as (what Hogben supposed must be) his inamorata sang out his name. He had fastened his braces on, and was donning his jacket.
“Mr. Hogben, I want to introduce you to Nicholas Raymond.”
“Mr. Raymond.” Hogben offered his hand.
“Yes,” Nico said. “How do you do?”
“I didn’t know if Nico would ever figure it out…where this place is, I mean…but I sent him a telegram, right off, when we first got here. You remember Mr. Mack was taking them down. You know the trains that come up this way only stop in the valley, where they have the factory.”
Hogben met Minnie halfway. She had climbed the incline opposite with some labor, saying these things. She began to trot across, and Hogben, hoping the young people were going into town, not coming back from it, wanted to congratulate her and leave her.
Minnie took his arm.
“I’m headed back to Mrs. Bard’s,” he told her.
Minnie added: “He’s not. Why do people get married?”
Nico fell in behind. “Mister. I don’t remember you.” His manner seemed a touch nose-in-the-airish, but Hogben got him. He repeated his name.
“Yes. Mr. Hogben. The question of marriage. As you see, society… I think I won’t use the word society. There are implications. No. Shall we say the human collective? The human collective enjoys this institution, which is made for…made in regard to… To property. Nothing that is a need, native to the being, you see. No. The historical basis for the married state is only in regard to the distribution and disposal of property. The legal authority, the importance assigned to it, these are derived wholly from property. Of course, no one can own anything.” He put a cigarette between his lips, and mumbled: “We are only retaining what we claim to own.”
Lighting the cigarette and spewing smoke, Nico preempted Hogben, who had separated a fair number of people from their property, on the verge of offering a sage: “Indeed.”
“Now from here, there,” Nico said. “You see the obscenity of personal wealth.”
He raised a finger towards a castle-like structure, turreting above its barricading wall, on a hilltop more or less a mile from Mrs. Bard’s farmhouse.
“Local nabob,” Hogben nodded. He hadn’t picked up the factory owner’s name, which he wanted…though being careful not to seem to. He assumed that this was so, that the owner of such a house must also own the most prominent business hereabouts.
He concluded he was not going to shed this pair. Make the most of it, he told himself. Float a balloon. “Now Mr. Raymond, you take an interest in the little man, so to speak. I guess you’ve heard the scuttlebutt, about war coming on?”
The Modern Girl’s View of Marriage
(2017, 2018 Stephanie Foster)