Horn of Plenty

By Valma Clark
SHADRACH RATHBONE was a patriarchal bearded giant who ran his upstate New York farm and his children with a bullheadedness and noisiness that Miss Clark likes to call “jovelike"; two of his daughters were “little intense brunettes, a third had black, pixy’s eyes" and moved with “savage grace"; one son had a sensuously beautiful head, another had a look of brutality. As a clan, the Rathbones are described in pretty intense terms; the kind of people that almost never just talk to each other, they thunder, they snap, they roar, they exult, they cry; temperamentally individual and unchecked, they approach life with violent selfishness. Horn of Plenty is the story of how this fiery lot is manipulated by a mild, blonde servant girl named Effie, whose woman’s instincts and ability to cook good solid food seem invariably to solve all the family problems.
The reader sees the Rathbones through the eyes of Effie, who is strong on feeling but neither very analytical nor very sharp in her observation of detail. Her own somewhat unmotivated fascination with the Rathbones does not always get across. And though one is told often enough that there’s a grandeur in the wildness of these people, their public brawling and dish-throwing and romping in the snow are something less than Olympian.
Through Effie, too, we get the regional background, the flash-backs into Rathbone history, the layout of house and land. But we get this information in snatches, never as a pattern of reference. When a clump of trees is necessary, a clump of trees appears where we had not known a clump of trees to exist before; when an incident needs explaining, a whole set of previously unmentioned facts comes suddenly to mind; when a parlor is required for the entertainment of a guest, an extra room seems to grow onto the house. This is all rather arbitrary.
Miss Clark is at her best in presenting earthy little scenes that are warm and human — Effie relaxing to discuss food and babies with a Rathbone wife, Effie preparing for Christmas and looking at a Christmas moon with her favorite Rathbone son. And now and then she comes out with a bit of human behavior that is real and pleasant — the old man Rathbone sneaking out at night to carry on with his shrewish ex-wife. The accumulation of these scenes creates in the reader an interest in the Rathbones, different, to be sure, from that of Effie and Miss Clark, but sufficient to make the final breakup of the household genuinely moving.