Quincy said reflectively, “And your family—”
Uncle Ike broke in, “Are alive and well, I suppose. They don’t write me and I don’t write them. I told my partners they must buy me out, and I gave them sixty days to do it in. I gave my wife and daughters two-thirds of my fortune and put the other third into an annuity. I am calculating now that if my health holds good I shall beat the insurance company in the end.”
Quincy, finding that his inquiries provoked such interesting replies, risked another, “Are your daughters married?”
Uncle Ike laughed quietly. “I don’t read the daily papers as I said, so I don’t know, but they wouldn’t send me cards anyway. They know my ideas of marriage.”
Quincy, smiling, asked, “Have you some new ideas on that old custom?”
“Yes, I have,” replied Uncle Ike. “If two men go into business and each puts in money and they make money or don’t make it, the law doesn’t fix it so that they must keep together for their natural lives, but allows the firm to be dissolved by mutual consent.”
“Why, sir, that would make marriage a limited partnership,” said Quincy with a smile.
“What better is it now?” asked Uncle Ike. “The law doesn’t compel couples to live together if they don’t want to, and if they don’t want to live together, why not let them, under proper restrictions, get up some new firms? Of course, there wouldn’t be any objection to parties living together for their natural lives, if they wanted to, and the fact that they did would be pretty good proof that they wanted to.”
Quincy started to speak, “But what—”
“I know what you were going to say,” said Uncle Ike. “You are going to ask that tiresome old question, what will become of the children? Well, I should consider them part of the property on hand and divide them and the money according to law.”
“But few mothers would consent to be parted from their children.”
“Oh, that’s nonsense,” replied Uncle Ike. “I have a Massachusetts State Report here that says about five hundred children every year are abandoned by their mothers for some cause or other. They leave them on doorsteps and in railroad stations; they put them out to board and don’t pay their board; and the report says that every one of these little waifs is adopted by good people, and they get a better education and a better bringing up than their own parents could or would give them. Have you ever read, Mr. Sawyer, of the Austrian baron who was crossed in love and decided he would never marry?”
Quincy shook his head.
“Well, he was wealthy and had a big castle, with no one to live in it, and during his life he adopted, educated, clothed, and sent out into the world, fitted to make their own living, more than a thousand children. To my mind, Mr. Sawyer, he was a bigger man than any emperor or king who has ever lived.”
Quincy asked, “But how are you going to start such a reform, Mr. Pettengill? The first couple that got reunited on the partnership plan would be the laughing stock of the community.”