An American Family
206 pages

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An American Family (1918) is a novel by Henry Kitchell Webster. Written at the height of Webster’s career as a popular author of magazine serials, An American Family is a story of war, ambition, and tragedy. Exploring the effects of the burgeoning labor movement on American industry, Webster illustrates the psychological effects of conflict and betrayal on members of a wealthy family. As the third son of a large, upper-class family, Hugh Corbett has always struggled to prove himself. Despite the ambitions of his siblings, Hugh finds himself longing for a life outside of the family business. As owners of a successful factory in Chicago, their position has increasingly been at odds with the needs of their impoverished laborers, many of whom have begun to agitate for higher pay and better rights. Just as this crisis reaches a boiling point, it becomes clear that the United States is preparing to enter the Great War, thrusting a nation into conflict with Europe and deepening its own divisions. Meanwhile, Hugh meets Helena, a committed anarchist who exposes for him the inequities suffered by those the Corbett family employs. When a strike threatens to bring down the business, Hugh is forced to make a choice: should he prove his allegiance to his class and loved ones, or do what he knows to be right for the greater good of humanity. Sweeping in scope and intensely emotional, An American Family is a story of history on a human scale. With a beautifully designed cover and professionally typeset manuscript, this edition of Henry Kitchell Webster’s An American Family is a classic of American literature reimagined for modern readers.



Publié par
Date de parution 03 août 2021
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781513288543
Langue English

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An American Family
A Novel of Today
Henry Kitchell Webster
An American Family: A Novel of Today was first published in 1918.
This edition published by Mint Editions 2021.
ISBN 9781513283524 | E-ISBN 9781513288543
Published by Mint Editions ®
Publishing Director: Jennifer Newens
Design & Production: Rachel Lopez Metzger
Project Manager: Micaela Clark
Typesetting: Westchester Publishing Services
When a clock somewhere in the big strange house struck a deliberate three, Jean Gilbert sat up in bed and craned forward for a better look out of the window at the June night. No signs of dawn yet, though there might be if it weren’t for a thin old moon high up in the sky. Anyhow, there would surely be daylight in an hour, and she did not believe she would fall asleep sooner than that. If she did not it would be fair to say, wouldn’t it (to herself, of course. She did not mean to confide the adventure to any one else), that she had lain awake all night?
It was sultry still. Chicago, it seemed, had gone to sleep at last. It must be half an hour anyway since the last motor had gone howling by in the Drive. She could hear quite plainly the tired little waves collapsing on the beach beyond the slender strip of parkway.
She pulled her two thick braids forward over her shoulders and dropped back on the pillow again. She hoped she wouldn’t go to sleep. There were so many wonderful things to think about; memories—fresh warm memories, all less than a week old which she had not half got through the catalogue of.
She had said the other day in answer to Mrs. Corbett’s blunt “How old are you, child?” that she was not quite seventeen. And three breaths later she had added scrupulously and with great dignity, “That is, I am more than sixteen and a half.” She was—a matter of days.
It had not been an easy admission to make in the circumstances, and indeed Mrs. Corbett had exclaimed, “Heavens! You’re a baby.” But nothing happened. The maid went on hooking the miraculous bridesmaid’s dress, and Anne Corbett, who was going to be the bride, looking at her with half-shut eyes to get the effect, said:
“Nonsense, mother! She’s Muriel’s height to a hair and the gown might have been made for her.”
It would all have remained wonderful enough, to be sure, even if “more than sixteen and a half” had been adjudged fatally too young for this last ineffable honor they proposed for her; just the sober facts, which were—I’ll try to be brief with them—these:
Jean’s father was Captain Roger Gilbert of the United States Army. He was poor; had nothing to live on but his pay. And he was young—only forty when Jean had her sixteenth birthday. His wife was even younger; only thirty-seven—twenty-one when Jean was born—a fact which proclaims romance upon its face.
Jean’s grandmother, old Mrs. Myron Crawford, strong-willed and able-minded, put by her husband’s untimely death in unchecked control of a very large estate, had had her own way in nearly everything; certainly with the first three of her children. The girl, Christine, married an English aristocrat and the elder sons lived up to this event. But the last pair, Frank and Ethel,—they were twins—were brought up less rigorously. Frank was allowed his heart’s desire, West Point, and it was thus his sister Ethel and young Roger Gilbert met.
They fell in love, it is almost true to say, at sight. It was one of those tolerably rare cases (fortunately rare, a prudent person might be tempted to say, because they always produce an explosion of some sort and not infrequently, a tragedy) of a genuine, unmistakable affinity. They would have married eventually, no doubt, even if the form of the widow Crawford’s opposition had been subtle—Machiavellian—serpentine. As it was, a reckless and quite indiscriminate anger simply flung the pair of children together, and they married rather madly, offhand, and had a baby upon a second lieutenant’s salary.
So Jean, as if no such institution as indulgent grand-motherhood existed in the world, grew up as best she could, in one army post after another. She went thrice to the Philippines. She spent a miserable year in a Washington boardinghouse. There was a place called, temporarily, home in the Presidio, in Fort Riley, in Brownsville, in other places—more than she could remember.
Her formal education, of course, was perfectly ramshackle and fortuitous. What she had really been brought up on was her father’s code—that of an officer and a gentleman. She could ride straight and speak the truth. She could obey orders with a stiff mouth. And when she was afraid, no one knew it.
Nemesis meanwhile had overtaken old Mrs. Crawford. Her two oldest sons were drowned in a yachting accident, one in the attempt to save the life of the other. With one daughter married abroad, the other estranged from her, and her one remaining son in the army, she would be, to all intents and purposes, childless. So the only thing to be done was for Frank to resign his commission, come home, and take his post as titular head of the family. Disaster had shaken her a good deal and softened her a little, and, as she never had really established the habit of tyrannizing over her youngest son, she found it easier to defer to his judgment; especially as it was nearly always good. An example of it, to her notion, was his marriage with the eldest Corbett girl, Constance. This was distinctly his own doing, but she admitted she couldn’t have chosen better herself.
The bond between Frank Crawford and his twin sister, Ethel, had never been broken, and his own marriage strengthened rather than weakened it. Constance, who was five years younger than Ethel, had always known her, of course; the Corbetts and the Crawfords both dated back to old West Side Chicago. To Constance, as to her bosom friends Frederica and Harriet Aldrich, Ethel’s romantic marriage had been a wonderful event.
The Gilberts were away in the Philippines when Frank and Constance were married, but when they came back, five years later, Constance broached to her husband a plan which she had kept mellowing in the wood for a long time.
“Jean’s a dear,” she said, “and beautifully brought up. But, Frank, it can’t go on like that! It would be wicked to let it. She’s just got to the age where things begin to make a difference. And that isn’t going to be her life, really. At least it needn’t be unless she wants it to. She ought to have the right kind of friends, and she ought to go to a good school for two years anyway.”
Frank agreed to all this, but didn’t at first see how it was feasible.
“I’ve talked to Roger about it; come as close as I dared. But they can’t afford it and they won’t take money. His face looked like a piece of armor-plate when I hinted at it.”
“Well, don’t hint,” said Constance. “Come straight out with it. Let me go and talk with Ethel. Look here! Let’s get them to give her to us. Roger’s sure to be sent to the border and she’ll go with him. But even they can’t think of taking the child down there. We won’t go into details at all. We’ll just say we want her for three or four years to do as we like with.” She understood very well the expression she saw go across her husband’s face. “It’ll be, I suppose,” she admitted, “sort of a shock to Mother Crawford when we tell her what we’ve done. But, Frank, down in her heart that’s what she wants. She’s hoping for it—something like that. Only, of course, she can’t say so.”
Frank turned it over meditatively for a while. “How about you?” he asked at last. “With two kids of your own already and another on the way, haven’t you got your hands full?”
But Constance was clear that she hadn’t. “I’m really selfish about it,” she said. “I want her.”
After a while Frank finished the subject with a nod. “All right,” he said, “go to it. I shan’t be surprised if you put it over.”
On Jean the news fell, astonishingly, all at once without even a premonitory murmur. Her father said to her one evening, just after retreat, in the crisp serious manner he used for orders:
“Jean, you’re to be made a young lady of. You’re to be packed and ready to leave for Chicago a week from today. You’re going to live for a while with your Uncle Frank Crawford and his wife. They’ve got plans for you that we’ve all agreed are good.”
So far as getting results went, he understood the girl even better than her mother did. She squared her shoulders and brought her boot-heels together with a click (she was in riding things). “Yes, sir,” she said. An old sergeant couldn’t have done it better.
He stood before her as rigid as she was, but she saw the tears springing to his eyes before her own came to blind her. He came up close and took her by the shoulders.
“There are a lot of good reasons we talked about when Constance was here,” he said. “You haven’t had an orthodox bringing up, and I suppose you’re entitled to it. Within the next ten years there’s a good chance that you’ll find yourself rich; opportunities open to you that, if we go on like this, you won’t understand nor know what to do with. They say you ought to have a look around first. That sounds like good sense, too.
“But my reason—my real reason for letting you go, I haven’t told even your mother. I shan’t tell it to any one but you. Ethel’s getting homesick after all these years. She wouldn’t admit it to me under torture, but I know it’s true. She’d like to have the door open to her own people again. She’d like to be reconciled to her mother before the old lady dies. And it’s through you, by this plan, that the thing can be done. I’m willing to give you up for three or four years for that. Do you see, chicken? Now go find your

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