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In the Hope of Rising Againby Helen Scully
Colonel Riant bequeathed the Mobile Register equally among his five children, but the running of it was left up to his sons. Dividing labor and sharing authority, however, were not their strong suits, besides that they approached their collective office without interest or direction. Only to keep it running was the plan and that, they figured should be simple enough. At least one brother went to the offices every day to counteract a decision his brother had made the day before, spreading confusion among the staff. Peter gained notoriety for firing writers for writing stories that contained anything unpleasant; Louis appointed himself sole writer of the long and highfalutin ?Sunday Science? section; Rex miscalculated and recalculated profits; George wrote sonorous columns on manifestations of the Virgin Mary, his specialty being the prophecies of Fatima. Only when the number of advertisers dropped substantially did they admit it was time to attend the monthly board meetings. There, when they weren?t standing two at a time to make a statement, they sat back watching the discussion with amusement.
Their lack of interest in the newspaper business left time for betting, primping, fishing, and writing letters. Already being a foursome, bridge was an obvious diversion many afternoons and evenings, the stakes between the four of them astronomically high because it was in the family anyway. At least one of them lost heavily at monthly horse races. Euchre they enjoyed with lady players, always letting themselves lose. Maintaining their toilette was an even greater challenge as it required a balance between the hard and the soft. Every week they were placing orders for some new product?mustache oil, lavender-musk soap, muscle-building tonics, saddle polish, tobacco. Fishing they considered a passion. Twice a week they motored to the house at Bon Secour and checked the soft-shell crab nets. On bourbon-hazed fishing trips to Bay Minette or Pensacola they considered it a triumph to catch two red snappers. In the Riant box at the theater, they fell asleep as soon as the lights went down.
Despite all this variety of pursuits, their only callus was between the fore- and middle fingers of their four right hands for letter writing was their particular forte. Letter writing was the reason for those four imposing rolltop desks that crowded the study; letter writing was the be-all and end-all of their days. To write letters was the reason they bothered to have friends, family, or romantic interests. They enjoyed only the heaviest, wettest rag paper and envelopes, the finest of pens and every accessory under the sun, blotters, wax seals, and lens-less spectacles. Like dogs they listened for the mail wagon, raced to the base of the stairs, and fought viciously to be the first with his hands on the pile of mail. They expected to get back what they sent, one to one, and held grudges against anyone who failed to answer a letter within three days? time.
The four of them writing to young ladies, not to mention aging aunts, old friends, and cousins as well as notes to one another, produced an average of twenty-five letters a day. God knows how they must have strained to include an interesting tidbit, for their lives were a sea of monotonous luxury, the surface of which was punctured by feats of uncleverness and tasteless pranks. Undoubtedly they had help from The Men?s Etiquette, Personal Letter-Writing Outline, which each kept in his top desk drawer:
Dear ________ (comma)
1. general questions about the recipient?s condition
2. several paragraphs detailing the writer?s news (keep light and humorous, at the same time building in emotion?thread together with relevance to the recipient)
3. in-depth response to an issued mention in the recipient?s most recent letter, or mention plans to meet
Love (comma) your affectionate (insert relationship; i.e., brother, friend) (comma)
True to form, they conducted the main thrust of their various courtships through the mail. New debutantes received two letters a week from each of the brothers, all reporting similar poetics in the same cloudily seductive manner:
Dear my dear,
How are you? I can?t get the smell of your hair out of my head or the feel of your silk dress out of my fingers. I?m pretty sure I feel strongly for you. I won today at bridge, with Peter as my dummy. We?re trying to get Mother to replace the green billiard table with a red one. Pray that we pull it off. It?s been two days since I last saw you and I?m still well. Write to me your feelings on this as it?s been intolerably humid. I may or may not come by for a visit Sunday. I can?t make any promises, you know. Good-bye, darling! Write to me!
Your affectionate suitor, X
Older women still on the wedding market no longer received such nonsense from the brothers as they had long ceased writing back. To their credit, it took the ladies of Mobile less than five years to discover that something was seriously wrong with the Riant brothers.
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