March 6, 1914: Helen and Warren’s cheerless trip
- Blog Post by: Ben Welter
- June 20, 2016 - 8:02 AM
Mabel Herbert Urner’s serialized accounts of a fictional New York couple began appearing in the Minneapolis Tribune in July 1910. The first piece, “The Disillusionment of the Honeymoon – The Eighth Day,” bore this editor’s note:
"This is the first article of a series by Mabel Herbert Urner, the author of “The Journal of a Neglected Wife,” which will show the way disillusionment comes to the bride after marriage. This disillusionment, which begins almost at the altar, will be shown in its various stages during the honeymoon and during the early part of the married life of the average young couple. The other articles of this series will appear on this page in later issues of the paper."
Mabel Herbert Urner
The articles appeared in the Tribune once or twice a week for the next four years. The headlines document the stormy relations between an unremittingly cruel husband and his obsequious wife.
HELEN UNWISELY PERSISTS IN ASKING THE SAME QUESTION IN MANY DIFFERENT WAYS – Jan. 13, 1912
HELEN TRIES ON AN EXPENSIVE FRENCH EVENING GOWN AND IS TRANSFORMED – Feb. 2, 1912
WARREN'S MOTHER CALLS AND STRONGLY DISAPPROVES OF HELEN'S ROOMER – March 4, 1912
HELEN WONDERS IF, AFTER ALL, LIFE GIVES HAPPINESS ONLY IN MOMENTS – March 20, 1912
HELEN IS ATHRILL WITH EXCITEMENT AT THE PROSPECT OF A TRIP ABROAD – June 20, 1912
HELEN PACKS HALF THE NIGHT BEFORE THEY SAIL, BUT FORGETS MANY THINGS – June 22, 1912
WARREN LEAVES HELEN ON THE DECK ALONE AND SPENDS HIS TIME IN THE SMOKING ROOM – July 6, 1912
TO HELEN’S DISCOMFORT, WARREN RETURNS THE ENAMEL WARE WITH A CURT LETTER – Dec. 12, 1912
WARREN WANTS THE WINDOWS CLOSED, SO HELEN SLEEPS ON THE FRONT ROOM COUCH – Feb. 26, 1913By the end of the serial’s run in the Minneapolis Tribune in June 1914, the overbearing Warren was still grunting, scowling and snorting, but he had begun to soften a bit, addressing Helen as “dear” and sounding as if he meant it as an endearment. The shift might be attributed to a change in the author’s life: In 1912, Mabel Herbert Urner married Lathrop C. Harper, a collector of rare books and incunabula. Their marriage lasted until Lathrop’s death 38 years later. And the syndicated series, which is said to have been based on the marriage, lasted nearly as long, appearing in more than 100 U.S., Canadian and British newspapers until 1944.
This piece, which appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune in March 1914, is representative of the series' early years.
THEIR MARRIED LIFE
They Have a Cheerless Trip to a Suburban Town on a Dismal Rainy Night.
By Mabel Herbert Urner.
“Look, dear, isn’t that a restaurant over there?”
Warren shifted the dripping umbrella and peered across the dimly lit, rain-driven village street.
“Dairy lunch room” in a tone of disgust, as he caught a glimpse of the cash register and marble topped tables through the glass door. “We were driveling idiots not to eat before we started. Stand a mighty slim chance of getting anything around here.”
But whatever the discomforts of the dinner and evening, Helen felt free from all blame, for Warren had planned this trip.
Several weeks before he had said not to make any engagement for the 15th, as they were going up to Milford to see Jack Maxwell in an amateur play. It was so unlike Warren to attend an affair of this kind that Helen had not taken it seriously. But that morning at breakfast he told her to meet him at 5:30; that they would take an early train and get dinner at Milford.
“We’ll not go if it rains?” protested Helen, looking at the gray, threatening sky.
“Rain? Think I’d let a little rain keep me from seeing “Max’ make a fool of himself? Not much.”
But now, as they splashed through the dark, rain-swirled streets, with the prospect of a dairy lunch room dinner, Warren’s ardor was dampened.
“There, that’s more like it,” as now two signs, “Milford House grill” and “Café” shone out cheerfully ahead. “We can at least get something to drink there.”
“Oh, it’s an old fashioned country hotel,” exclaimed Helen gleefully, as they went up the steps. “Just the kind of place I hoped we’d find.”
It was an old frame house, built on colonial lines, and the wide center hall was used as an office.
A man, evidently the proprietor, pleased at having guests on so rainy a night, came from behind the desk with a hospitable “Good evening.”
“Can you give us something to eat?” asked Warren, ramming his dripping umbrella into a stand by the door.
“Yes, sir, certainly,” leading them into the dining room, which was empty and dark except for a single gas jet. Hastily he lit up the center chandelier and turned to Warren with an apologetic, “It’s a little late for our regular supper, sir, but we can give you anything you want.”
“What have you got that’s good?” for Warren knew that “whatever you want” in a village hotel meant a choice of but two or three things.
“Nice sirloin steak, sir, or we can broil you a chicken.”
Warren ordered a steak and French fried potatoes, his standard order when in doubt about the culinary resources of a place.
Helen, always interested in the atmosphere of rooms and places, was absorbed in “looking around.”
The wallpaper was a cheerful flowered red and white, the floor was covered with linoleum and a dingy red carpet. Over the mantel hung some colored coaching and hunting scenes.
“Haven’t any too much time – that show’s supposed to begin and 8:15. Hope they hurry along that steak,” as Warren drained his cocktail.
Helen had been making futile efforts to “fix” her hair, which was almost down from the constant joggling of Warren’s umbrella against her hat. As they were alone in the dining room, she now went over to the mantel mirror, but found that her pocket comb was not in her handbag.
“O, I’ve lost my comb – what shall I do? I can’t go to that place with my hair like this!”
“Now, never mind the primping – here comes the steak!”
Helen went back to the table with the uncomfortable feeling a woman always has when her hair is loose and no re-thrusting of hair pins will help.
“How’s that?” demanded Warren, who had carved into the steak and now held up a piece with critical approval. “Pretty good sirloin, eh? Done enough for you?”
“Oh, yes; plenty.”
The potatoes were not the ordinary soggy “French fried,” but were browned to a golden turn, smoking hot and deliciously mealy inside.
“Knew we’d get good plain food here,” declared Warren with satisfaction. “Never order any fancy stuff at a place like this.”
Their table was by a window and now, through the rain-blurred glass, Helen saw the colored lights of a drug store across the street.
“Dear, I know they have combs over there. When we’re through, can’t you run over and get me one?” pleadingly. “It won’t take a minute.”
“Now, we’ve got no time to fool. Shove your hair up under your hat. Who’s going to notice you anyway?”
“But I’ll have to take my hat off, won’t I?”
“How do I know?” with a shrug. “I’ve never been to one of these church shows. But I’d go anywhere to see Max try to act. They’ve been rehearsing this dope for about six months. He’s been spouting about it ever since – the ‘to be or not to was’ style.”
“ ‘To be or not to was!’ “ laughed Helen. “I never heard that before. But I didn’t know it was a Shakespearian play.”
“It’s not. But he’s got an idea he can act and he’s studying on the side. That’s the joke – he really thinks he can act. Ha! Ha!” Warren threw back his head with his deep laugh. “Maxwell’s a mighty fine fellow – but act! O, say, it’s going to be rich!”
The waitress came up now with solicitous inquiry.
“No I guess that’s about all we’ll have time for. You can bring the check. How about tipping her” as she disappeared. “Shall I risk it? She looks to me like the proprietor’s wife.”
But Helen was much too worried about her hair to be concerned about the status of the waitress.
Helen Seeks Relief.
“Dear, I’m going to run over to that drug store for a comb. I’ll be back before you get the change.”
Unheeding the protest Warren roared after her, Helen darted out through the office and across the street. She had not waited to take the umbrella, but the rain had slackened some.
The drug clerk, who was weighing out cough drops, looked up in mild surprise as she entered with a breathless:
“A comb! Any kind of pocket comb.”
The next moment she had the comb, a cheap 10-cent one in a leatherette case, and was darting back.
“Have you a dressing room here?” she asked of the waitress who was now making change from the cash drawer in the office.
“Yes, ma’am, right up the stairs to your left.”
The first door was ajar and Helen pushed it open. But it was a bedroom, a country hotel bedroom with the musty odor that comes from such a room, shut up on a rainy night. Across the hall was a sort of parlor with cheap upholstered furniture and further on was the dressing room.
Before the small cracked mirror, which hung over an unvarnished table, she quickly took down her hair, braided and coiled it securely. Then with a feeling of immense relief that she could now enjoy the evening she hurried down.
Warren, already in his overcoat, was waiting with a savage scowl.
“Know what time it is? Ten after 8! You never go anywhere that you’re not everlastingly powdering and fixing up! It’s your blamed conceit. Think everybody’ll be looking at you instead of the stage, do you?”
“Why, dear,” ventured Helen unhappily, “my hair was almost down.”
The proprietor, who had directed Warren how to reach the church where the play was being given, now followed them out with a final:
“Three blocks straight ahead and then to the left.”
At the first crossing, with a splash Helen stepped into a puddle.
“Look where you put your feet,” growled Warren.
Then as she glanced down at her spattered skirt she stopped short with a dismayed:
“Now what’s the matter?”
“Oh, nothing, only I – I must have left my overshoes under the table. But it doesn’t matter,” hastily, “they’re old ones – and these shoes are heavy.”
Without a word Warren switched her around, and in grim silence marched her back to the hotel. At the gate she broke away from him and ran ahead, through the office and into the dining room, where her overshoes were still under the table.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” as she joined him breathlessly. “But we won’t be late if we hurry, will we? These things never begin on time.”
Without deigning an answer, Warren strode on so fast that Helen had almost to run to keep under the umbrella. One of her overshoes was loose and, when she stopped to stamp it on, he jerked his arm away and stalked on ahead.
She caught up with him but her overshoe was still loose, and as they crossed the street it came off in the mud.
“What the devil’s the matter now?” savagely, as she turned to look for it.
“One of my overshoes came off,” falteringly. “But we won’t stop to look for it.”
“No, by George, we won’t! You’ve done about enough to queer this evening. Now come on!”
|It's hard to tell if "disillusionment" was on the minds of these Minnesota newlyweds in about 1912. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)
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