Wednesday, March 17, 2010

PONDERING THE FUTURE 39th installment

Talking machines. Eaton's 1909.

June 1, 1909. Victoria Day Monday. A holiday.

A sweet, breezy Monday afternoon, and Flora is once again on the porch of Tighsolas, with a notebook on her knee, studying a scene from Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, for a classroom event she was putting on. Sometimes school could be fun. End of year exams were approaching, but this year she had managed to keep her head above water, with respect to results and, if she didn't freeze at exam time, she would likely pass, most subjects anyway. The new teacher, Mr. Cross, continued to be more lenient than Mr. Jackson. He had even suggested she have her eyes tested - and yes, she needed glasses,for long distance viewing. She had worn the new pair, purchased in Sherbrooke, last week, all day at school.
Margaret had never asked about the Easter exam results. After her close call with tonsillitis, and a harsh winter spent shut in except for the occasional whist or bridge party, she was seldom at home. The carpets in Tighsolas had yet to be aired out. Father had come home for a week in late May, after the thaw, and had rolled and seeded the garden for Margaret, considering her still too weak after her illness. He had joined Margaret in a chorus of Why doesn't Herb write?
Flora's hat was still on her dresser in the bedroom. That appointed day, she had indeed got up the courage to visit Hudon's, Poppy hat on head, only to be met by another woman, taking Eugenie's place. Mademoiselle Hudon is in New York. "'Ave you not read da social notes in da Richmond Times? I am here to serve you, instead." Crestfallen, or was it relieved? Flora had beat a quick retreat.

Marion, is at her dressing table in her tiny room on Bleury. She slipped a ten dollar bill from her Friday pay into an envelope to send to her mother, but she didn't feel like writing a long letter. What could she write about? Not last night. Yesterday, Victoria Day eve, a Sunday night of all things, she had finally made it to Dominion Park.
The crowd had been simply enormous, many many thousands of visitors. Her beau for the evening, a soft-spoken young man in his father's tanning business, a friend of Dr. Cleveland's, had persuaded her to ride on the train, first thing, right up front, up and down and around, and afterwards her head had been swirling.
No sooner had she found her equilibrium, he bought her a ticket to see Mini Ha Ha, a miniature female acrobat who twirled around and danced about and walked a tightrope in workaday dress. The billboard described her as 'charming' but Marion could have thought of better adjectives to describe the odd little female.Then there had been the fun house, the wild animal show,the infant incubator exhibit, the Southern Plantation Nightingales, with their sad, spiritual songs, the re-enactment of the San Francisco earthquake of 1905 and finally the evening's novelty act, a swarthy Mediterrean beast of a man who battled with snakes.His oiled muscles and slate black eyes bulged huge as he fought off a nefarious nest of writhing serpents (as the cryer put it) up to his naked waist in water and Marion had been so taken by surprise by the sight of him, she had flushed ruby red, her timid escort actually had asked her if she were going to faint. But no, it was just the crush of the crowd, she pretended; 24 hours later, the feverish feeling inspired by the sight of the strongman still lingered. Or was it simmering indignation towards her new landlady, who had publicly scolded her for coming home after 11.00. For breaking house rules. How she despised being told what to do. At 25 years of age. Her brother could do just about anything he wanted and she had to be home before midnight, like a character in a silly fairy tale.

And, speak of the devil, in a flat just a few streets away,on de Bullion, Herbert Nicholson was drinking a scotch amid a rowdy group of young men, of the clerkish kind, and some ageless women of the uninhibited kind and waving a card in the air.

"This is the temperance pledge," he said slurring. A redhead grabbed it from his hand. "I therefore promise, with the help of god to abstain from the use of all intoxicating liquids."

Another young man walks up and asks, "Nicholson, how bout some gaming down in Chinatown."

"No, Smithie. I'd better not. I'm supposed to be in Cowansville. My sister lives around there now. And she has all kinds of spies, chums who want to get into her good graces."
"That didn't stop us from going out last night to see that W.C Fields guy at the Bennett Theatre."

"Well, I'm not going to press my luck." The truth was, Herb had run out of money. His entire paycheque gone in two days! Lucky he had pre-purchased a ticket back to Cowansville. He'd have to put off his landlady, this month.

"Is your sister a working girl? Like us?" asks his female friend

"No, certainly not. She's a teacher. She has a diploma. She lives in a respectable boarding house."

The woman raises her eyebrows, menacingly, and she turned away.

She says to another woman, "Our friend 'erb is a Christian socialist at heart. Lucky it is not his heart we want."
"You should be nice to eem, Marie-Claude. Or e won't get you dat job in motion pictures, with is friend Sinnott."
"Well, don't hold your breath, Ginette," says Smithie, blinking hard a few times as if there is something bothering his eyes.

And in yet another downtown Montreal area home, an solid respectable four storey greystone at 72 Sherbrooke Street West, in a well-furnished but noisy third story bedroom situated above the street, Edith Nicholson sits reading Vanity Fair,by the late afternoon sun, half listening to the sharp clip clop of horse hooves on the street and the duller sound of muffled arguing below.

Mr. Crepeau, a small, dapper dignified looking man, has come home, a day late, as it were, and had a row with his fat, overbearing wife.

Somehow, crockery was broken. Her student Alice, was in her bedroom, trying on a new dress from Henry Morgan, purchased today, by the father. Baby Cecile was in the nursery, being tended by Claudille, a new girl, sent by the nuns. This was the third charity case in five months delivered to Mme. Crepeau, for rehabilition, and a little honest housework.
It wasn't that Mrs. Crepeau was lazy. No, as a housekeeper, this stout woman with the enormous chest was as capable as Margaret Nicholson in every respect. She did all her own cooking and cleaning, despite the fact the family earned 5,000 a year.
Edith had been instructed not to talk to the new girl. Education, apparently, was the scourge of the fallen woman. Anyway, this was a girl destined to work as a domestic, once her 'apprenticeship' at the Crepeaus had run its course, if she could be kept away from the other. "Claudille is only 17, the same age as Flora," she mused. But any resemblance ended there. The girl was hard and coarse, and, paradoxically, much more fragile than Flora, somehow, despite being a tall, heavy girl, and a stranger to the corset, it seemed.

Edith pulled away from Becky Sharp for a moment to ponder her immediate future. She could not wait for June 15, when she would return to Richmond, with sister Marion and spend the summer relaxing at ice cream socials and card parties and maybe attending a dance or two, if a consort could be found. If not, Aunt Bella's Victrola and the Merry Widow Waltz would have to suffice. Edith had purchased some music cylinders to give to her niece and nephew. (She hoped they were not already bored by the device.) But after that, what would she do with herself? What could she do? If Charlie G. didn't come to his senses.