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The Bread-winners A Social Study   By: (1835-1905)

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E text prepared by Michael Gray (Lost


A Social Study

New York and London Harper & Brothers Publishers




A French clock on the mantel piece, framed of brass and crystal, which betrayed its inner structure as the transparent sides of some insects betray their vital processes, struck ten with the mellow and lingering clangor of a distant cathedral bell. A gentleman, who was seated in front of the fire reading a newspaper, looked up at the clock to see what hour it was, to save himself the trouble of counting the slow, musical strokes. The eyes he raised were light gray, with a blue glint of steel in them, shaded by lashes as black as jet. The hair was also as black as hair can be, and was parted near the middle of his forehead. It was inclined to curl, but had not the length required by this inclination. The dark brown mustache was the only ornament the razor had spared on the wholesome face, the outline of which was clear and keen. The face suited the hands it had the refinement and gentleness of one delicately bred, and the vigorous lines and color of one equally at home in field and court; and the hands had the firm, hard symmetry which showed they had done no work, and the bronze tinge which is the imprint wherewith sky and air mark their lovers. His clothes were of the fashion seen in the front windows of the Knickerbocker Club in the spring of the year 187 , and were worn as easily as a self respecting bird wears his feathers. He seemed, in short, one of those fortunate natures, who, however born, are always bred well, and come by prescription to most of the good things the world can give.

He sat in a room marked, like himself, with a kind of serious elegance one of those apartments which seem to fit the person like a more perfect dress. All around the walls ran dwarf book cases of carved oak, filled with volumes bound in every soft shade of brown and tawny leather, with only enough of red and green to save the shelves from monotony. Above these the wall space was covered with Cordovan leather, stamped with gold fleurs de lis to within a yard of the top, where a frieze of palm leaves led up to a ceiling of blue and brown and gold. The whole expression of the room was of warmth and good manners. The furniture was of oak and stamped leather. The low book cases were covered with bronzes, casts, and figurines, of a quality so uniformly good that none seemed to feel the temptation either to snub or to cringe to its neighbor. The Owari pots felt no false shame beside the royal Satsuma; and Barbedienne's bronzes, the vases of Limoges and Lambeth and bowls from Nankin and Corea dwelt together in the harmony of a varied perfection.

It was an octagon room, with windows on each side of the fire place, in which a fire of Ohio coal was leaping and crackling with a cheerful and unctuous noisiness. Out of one window yon could see a pretty garden of five or six acres behind the house, and out of the other a carefully kept lawn, extending some hundred yards from the front door to the gates of hammered iron which opened upon a wide paved avenue. This street was the glory of Buff land, a young and thriving city on Lake Erie, which already counted a population of over two hundred thousand souls. The people of Clairfield, a rival town, denied that there was anything like so many inhabitants, and added that "the less we say about 'souls' the better." But this was pure malice; Buffland was a big city. Its air was filled with the smoke and odors of vast and successful trade, and its sky was reddened by night with the glare of its furnaces, rising like the hot breath of some prostrate Titan, conquered and bowed down by the pitiless cunning of men. Its people were, as a rule, rich and honest, especially in this avenue of which I have spoken. If you have ever met a Bufflander, you have heard of Algonquin Avenue... Continue reading book >>

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