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Evelyn's Husband

Evelyn's Husband

Charles W. Chesnutt
Copyright Date: 2005
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    Evelyn's Husband
    Book Description:

    The critique of white male society that Charles W. Chesnutt launched in A Marrow of Tradition continues in Evelyn's Husband, one of six manuscripts left unpublished when this highly regarded African American innovator died.

    Set in Boston society, on a deserted Caribbean island, and in Brazil, Evelyn's Husband is the story of two men-one old, one young-in love with the same young woman. Late in his career Chesnutt embarked on a period of experimentation with eccentric forms, finishing this hybrid of a romance and adventure story just before publishing his last work, The Colonel's Dream.

    In Evelyn's Husband, Chesnutt crafts a parody examining white male roles in the early 1900s, a time when there was rampant anxiety over the subject. In Boston, the older man is left at the altar when his bride-to-be flees and marries a young architect. Later, trapped on an island together, the jilted lover and the young husband find a productive middle ground between the dilettante and the primitive.

    Along with A Business Career, this novel marks Chesnutt's achieve-ment in being among the first African American authors to defy the color barrier and write fiction with a white cast of main characters.

    Matthew Wilson, Bainbridge, Pennsylvania, introduces both A Business Career and Evelyn's Husband. He is associate professor of humanities and writing at Penn State University, Harrisburg. Marjan van Schaik, Bainbridge, Pennsylvania, edited both novels along with Wilson and is a part-time instructor at Millersville University.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-296-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
    (pp. v-2)

    The publication of Charles W. Chesnutt’s novel, Evelyn’s Husband, along with its companion volume, A Business Career, sees the completion, with one exception, of the publication of the novels that Chesnutt left in manuscript.¹ In these fictions, Chesnutt is writing in the genre of the white-life novel, in which African Americans write exclusively about white experience. When Chesnutt completed these novels, this was a relatively new genre. In the late 1890s, Chesnutt and Paul Laurence Dunbar began, concurrently, to write white-life novels, and while Dunbar’s were published, Chesnutt’s have remained in manuscript for over a hundred years. A review of...

    (pp. 3-19)

    Mr. Cushing was waiting for the ladies. The occasion of his attendance was a symphony concert, to which he was to accompany Mrs. Thayer and her daughter—or, to place them in the order of their relative importance in Mr. Cushing’s consciousness at this moment—Miss Thayer and her mother; a shifting of values according to the law of life, by which the young come forward as their elders retire, but which may mean more in some cases than in others. In this instance it had meant a great deal to all of the parties concerned, though no one of...

    (pp. 19-27)

    The carriage drew up at the curb. Cushing dismounted, helped the ladies out, and passed with them beneath the canvas canopy leading to the doorway of the hall. Upon entering the lobby Evelyn caught sight of a young man of their acquaintance.

    “There’s Willie Rice, mama,” she whispered as they moved slowly forward with the throng. “He’s looking at us.”

    Upon catching Evelyn’s eye, the young man referred to lifted his hat and bowed to the ladies. Evelyn’s glance, as she acknowledged the salutation, rested only a moment upon Rice’s cheerful though somewhat vacuous countenance, and then wandered toward the...

    (pp. 27-37)

    When the concert was over, the young men were waiting in the lobby, and bowed with marked empressement as the ladies passed. To Evelyn, as the carriage whirled them swiftly through the streets, they seemed to be leaving light and life behind, and she leaned back in silence while Mrs. Thayer and Cushing discussed the merits of the opera and the singers. How old they seemed to her, her mother and Mr. Cushing, when they spoke of the soprano’s voice nineteen or twenty years before! They belonged to another generation; nineteen years before, Evelyn had been an infant in long...

    (pp. 37-45)

    Evelyn and her mother took the street-car to Knapp’s, which was on Tremont Street opposite the Common. Carpenter’s exhibit was the result of a year of work upon the Mediterranean. The paintings were cleverly done in the artist’s characteristic style, or lack of style, to quote certain invidious critics who maintained that Carpenter, who wrote novels and built railroads, as well as painted pictures, had invented a style of his own, whereby he avoided the detail demanded of a conscientious artist and left to the spectator’s imagination the labor which more properly devolved upon the painter.

    They had scarcely entered...

    (pp. 45-56)

    In the next morning mail came two letters from Cushing, written the night before at New York, upon the letterhead of an uptown hotel. One was for Evelyn. It was couched in a style of mingled familiarity and fervor,—that of one who, having occupied for a long time a certain relation toward another, suddenly grafts upon it a new and different feeling—that of a schoolmaster for instance in love with a pupil who has grown up in his school. To Evelyn, still under the influence of yesterday’s novel emotion, the letter was inharmonious, jarring: behind the fervent lover...

    (pp. 57-64)

    Thursday morning again brought two letters. The one to Mrs. Thayer stated that Cushing’s mission had been so far successful that Wentworth was now amenable to reason though in a physical condition that rendered it unwise to bring him home before Thursday evening. They would take the late afternoon train but would not arrive in Boston in time for Cushing to accompany the ladies to Mrs. Archer’s reception.

    The note to Evelyn was couched in tenderer language. He was impatient at his absence; he longed to be near her. He begged her to wear the flowers he had ordered sent,...

    (pp. 64-81)

    Simpson brought the carriage around at nine o’clock, and the ladies arrived at Mrs. Archer’s at the hour best calculated for an effective entrance. Mrs. Thayer was anxious that Evelyn, on the eve of her promotion, should make an impression which would justify Cushing’s choice. They arrived at a moment when the rooms were comfortably full and yet not so crowded as to hide the individual in the mass. There was still room enough for a beautiful or well-gowned woman to turn around so that she might be studied by the appreciative eyes as a complete picture as well as...

    (pp. 81-89)

    Evelyn’s expectations were fully met. Her only point of doubt had been whether her mother would begin her lecture at once or wait until they had reached home. Evelyn hoped she might begin immediately, and get through with it.

    Mrs. Thayer did nothing of the kind. She had no intention of having the force of what she might say spoiled by the clatter of the horses’ hoofs or the swaying of the carriage, or interrupted by their arrival at the house. She sat back in her seat in silence more eloquent than speech and uttered not a word until they...

    (pp. 89-101)

    Mr. Cushing came at ten o’clock next morning, with Wentworth, pale and nerveless, but submissive and repentant. They had arrived by the midnight train, and Cushing had kept Wentworth at his own house until morning. Wentworth sought his own room, after his mother had kissed and embraced him. Evelyn had not yet appeared, so Cushing was left alone with Mrs. Thayer. He gave her the details of his experience with Wentworth. As they suspected, there had been a touch of his former trouble. The moral weakness had reacted upon the physical, more strongly than before. The boy would require careful...

    (pp. 101-115)

    A year slips quietly by, so quietly at times that busy men and women scarcely realize that one-fortieth or more of an average lifetimes is gone. To perfect happiness a year will pass and bring no change, for perfection cannot be improved, and if a change for the worse, it is no longer perfection. To wretchedness there is a similar dead level:—often a year brings no change for the better, except that there is one year less of unhappiness. Life offers most to those whose fate lies between these two extremes; they are not cloyed with happiness nor crushed...

    (pp. 115-128)

    On this particular evening Evelyn had planned a special dinner for her husband. He did not appear at six o’clock, but telephoned that he would take dinner down town with a friend, and would not be at home until eight, when he would only have time to dress hurriedly in order to attend the monthly meeting of the Architects’ Club, at which there was an important matter to be discussed.

    Evelyn had not taken the disappointment in very good part. It seemed to her that she was neglected. Her pique led her to a somewhat unusual step. She laid out...

    (pp. 128-146)

    When Manson looked back, a year later, to the events of the next day, they seemed like the vague happenings of a dream, through which, nevertheless, ran a well-defined purpose. Had his mind not been dominated by a single thought, which eclipsed for the time being every other, it is inconceivable that a shrewd and careful business man should have permitted the series of disastrous events which combined, within the next twenty-four hours to make him a penniless wanderer upon the face of the earth. What he remembered was that having heard Leonie’s story and having reached by the logic...

    (pp. 146-155)

    The Adelaide, designed originally for a line vessel, had been run for many years in the regular traffic between New York and the West Indies. She had been staunchly built; her lines were graceful; she still made good speed, and looked sound enough as she lay at her moorings in a smart coat of fresh paint. But beneath the surface her plates were badly rusted, and patched in many places. Both steamer and cargo were heavily insured.

    Captain Pennock, of the Adelaide, was a bluff, hearty seaman, whose one vice, that of inopportune intoxication, had caused him to be broken...

    (pp. 156-167)

    The eastern extremity of Brazil, just below which lies the harbor of Pernambuco, or Recife, is, as may be seen upon the map or any sailing chart, almost directly southeast of New York, with a clear stretch of water intervening; so that steamers running between these ports strike out from New York upon a straight compass course, stopping perhaps at the Bermudas, which lie immediately in their path; continuing thence upon their course until they reach Cape St. Roque, whence they bear southward to their port of destination. This course lies several hundred miles to the eastward of the Leeward...

    (pp. 167-178)


    The islander stirred in his sleep, then awoke and sat up.

    “I was dreaming, no doubt,” he murmured, “and called out her name in my sleep. But I cannot remember my dream, not any of it at all.”


    He was not dreaming now, nor was it he who had spoken. The voice came from within the hut. In a moment the stranger was talking volubly while the islander listened intently.

    “Ah, Evelyn,” he was saying, “you will marry no one but me! We were made for each other; the proof lies in this, that from our first...

    (pp. 179-195)

    The blind man had felt his way back to the hut, over the outside of which he was running his hand vaguely. Cushing rose and walked toward him.

    Manson caught the sound.

    “Hello!” he called again anxiously.

    “Hello!” replied Cushing, in an ordinary tone.

    “Thank God!” exclaimed Manson fervently, “a man, a white man, and an American, if I can trust my hearing.”

    “You’re not discreet,” responded Cushing drily. “It’s safe enough to assume that I am a man. But I might have been a negro, with whom these waters abound, and most of whom speak English; or I might...

    (pp. 196-208)

    Cushing raked out the covered embers of the fire and proceeded to broil the fish for the supper. Manson sniffed the odor with evident satisfaction, and ate his portion with an equal relish. He had a keen appetite, and under the influence of regular though frugal meals, was rapidly recovering physical vigor. His beard had grown to a respectable length, and no longer resembled a discarded scrubbing-brush.

    “Henry,” he said, after he had eaten, “it appals me at times, to think what a burden of obligation you are piling up against me. Why, I should starve to death were it...

    (pp. 209-219)

    The rain increased momentarily as Cushing made his way along the path, and meanwhile the darkness came on apace. Reaching the camp, he carefully raked out one corner of the covered fire and found the embers still glowing. With a wooden shovel which he had whittled out, he piled earth upon the banked up ashes, and then over this laid broad-leaved branches, torn from the bushes near by, in such a manner as to shed most the rain.

    There was some cooked fish in the hut, and of this he made a frugal meal. There was plenty left for Manson’s...

    (pp. 219-230)

    The letter which, hastily misconstrued in the light of Leonie’s distorted and malicious statements, had sent Manson on a wild-goose chase to the other side of the world—the deliberately ambiguous letter written by Evelyn, in a moment of unthinking anger, and afterwards bitterly atoned for, would have been perfectly clear to any one who could have overheard the conversation between Evelyn and Cushing while he was accompanying her home from her mother’s the evening before. It had related to her brother. Wentworth’s conduct had been irreproachable during the year since Evelyn’s marriage. He had graduated from the University at...

    (pp. 230-236)

    Evelyn had left New York at seven in the morning, and reached Boston at noon. She had hoped that after her telegram Manson might meet her at the station, but he was not there. Perhaps he had remained away because displeased with her—or business had detained him. She moved toward the telephone booth in the station, but, on second thoughts, turned away, and preceded by a porter with her bag, moved toward the carriage entrance, took a seat in the nearest cab, and was driven rapidly homeward.

    She alighted, paid the cabman, and ran up the steps. She had...

    (pp. 237-244)

    Manson grew steadily worse. His disorder developed into an intermittent fever, which Cushing had no medicine to combat. The active member of this strangely assorted and involuntary partnership attended to the commissary department, and watched and tended his companion when not vainly watching the sea for a sail.

    One morning at daybreak he saw a faint trail of smoke, low down upon the horizon. He watched it eagerly, hopefully, but instead of coming toward the island it drew steadily away, and soon disappeared. The steamer from which it came had not come in sight of the island, or, if so,...

    (pp. 244-251)

    The steamer proved to be the Pan-America, of the opposition line to that by which Cushing had originally taken passage for South America. Most of the crew and passengers were gathered on the deck when the castaways were lifted overboard, but the keen glance which Cushing threw around him discovered no one whom he recognized as an acquaintance. He had traveled so widely that it would not have been surprising had there been among the crew some officer, or even some seaman, whom he had met before. To their rescuers he gave his name as Henry Singleton, and Manson’s as...

    (pp. 252-264)

    The Pan-America steamed into the beautiful harbor of Rio de Janeiro toward the close of an October day. Viewed from the steamer’s deck, the city seemed like a city of Southern Italy, or a scene from fairyland; a cluster of alabaster palaces in different tints, against a background of deepest green, the whole bathed in the ruddy glow of the declining sun. It was the Southern Spring, and already the air was tremulous with tropical heat.

    After the tedious preliminaries attending debarkation, Cushing went ashore with Manson—the blind man holding the other’s arm. They took a carriage for a...

    (pp. 265-272)

    The English steamer came in at ten o’clock next morning. It was twelve before the passengers were landed. Cushing was at the landing-place. He had taken his station near a pile of bales of merchandise, from which he could see without being seen. In two ladies in deep mourning who came ashore, attended solicitously by the captain and the purser, he recognized Evelyn and Alice. Evelyn had lost some of her bloom; grief and anxiety had left their mark. Remorse too, he could imagine, had contributed its effect. Without her roses, and with her expression of chastened sorrow, Evelyn had...

    (pp. 272-279)

    “I will manage a meeting,” Cushing had said the night before, “for tomorrow morning. That is, I shall decoy him to a secluded spot and then bring you face to face.”

    “And the Lord have mercy on his soul,” said Manson solemnly.

    He was up early in the morning and out of an abundance of caution, drew all the chambers of his revolver and loaded them with fresh cartridges. Cushing called for him at half-past seven. Manson had removed the bandage from his eyes, and merely wore a green-lined shade, which, supplemented by a broad-brimmed Panama, guarded his eyes sufficiently...

    (pp. 279-289)

    Evelyn had her explanation with her husband that afternoon.

    Where both loved, and both had suffered, and both were young, and the long years lay before them, explanations were not difficult.

    “It was all my fault, Hugh. I should have explained, in my note, where I was going, and why.”

    “It was my fault, Evelyn, and the fault of that she-devil Leonie. She helped me to you, Evelyn; but she has cancelled the debt. It was monstrous in me to doubt you.” “And wicked in me to tempt you. Such a beautiful house you were building me, too, as a...

    (pp. 290-290)