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The Kentons   By: (1837-1920)

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By William Dean Howells


The Kentons were not rich, but they were certainly richer than the average in the pleasant county town of the Middle West, where they had spent nearly their whole married life. As their circumstances had grown easier, they had mellowed more and more in the keeping of their comfortable home, until they hated to leave it even for the short outings, which their children made them take, to Niagara or the Upper Lakes in the hot weather. They believed that they could not be so well anywhere as in the great square brick house which still kept its four acres about it, in the heart of the growing town, where the trees they had planted with their own hands topped it on three aides, and a spacious garden opened southward behind it to the summer wind. Kenton had his library, where he transacted by day such law business as he had retained in his own hands; but at night he liked to go to his wife's room and sit with her there. They left the parlors and piazzas to their girls, where they could hear them laughing with the young fellows who came to make the morning calls, long since disused in the centres of fashion, or the evening calls, scarcely more authorized by the great world. She sewed, and he read his paper in her satisfactory silence, or they played checkers together. She did not like him to win, and when she found herself unable to bear the prospect of defeat, she refused to let him make the move that threatened the safety of her men. Sometimes he laughed at her, and sometimes he scolded, but they were very good comrades, as elderly married people are apt to be. They had long ago quarrelled out their serious differences, which mostly arose from such differences of temperament as had first drawn them together; they criticised each other to their children from time to time, but they atoned for this defection by complaining of the children to each other, and they united in giving way to them on all points concerning their happiness, not to say their pleasure.

They had both been teachers in their youth before he went into the war, and they had not married until he had settled himself in the practice of the law after he left the army. He was then a man of thirty, and five years older than she; five children were born to them, but the second son died when he was yet a babe in his mother's arms, and there was an interval of six years between the first boy and the first girl. Their eldest son was already married, and settled next them in a house which was brick, like their own, but not square, and had grounds so much less ample that he got most of his vegetables from their garden. He had grown naturally into a share of his father's law practice, and he had taken it all over when Renton was elected to the bench. He made a show of giving it back after the judge retired, but by that time Kenton was well on in the fifties. The practice itself had changed, and had become mainly the legal business of a large corporation. In this form it was distasteful to him; he kept the affairs of some of his old clients in his hands, but he gave much of his time, which he saved his self respect by calling his leisure, to a history of his regiment in the war.

In his later life he had reverted to many of the preoccupations of his youth, and he believed that Tuskingum enjoyed the best climate, on the whole, in the union; that its people of mingled Virginian, Pennsylvanian, and Connecticut origin, with little recent admixture of foreign strains, were of the purest American stock, and spoke the best English in the world; they enjoyed obviously the greatest sum of happiness, and had incontestibly the lowest death rate and divorce rate in the State. The growth of the place was normal and healthy; it had increased only to five thousand during the time he had known it, which was almost an ideal figure for a county town. There was a higher average of intelligence than in any other place of its size, and a wider and evener diffusion of prosperity... Continue reading book >>

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