The original text noted chapters as 1, 2, 3 etc. in the TOC, and I, II, III etc. in chapter headers. These have been retained.
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LOVE AFFAIRS OF AN OLD MAID
BY LILIAN BELL
"Some ships reach happy ports that are not steered"
NEW YORK HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1893, by HARPER & BROTHERS. All rights reserved.
This book is dedicated very fondly to my beloved family, who, in their anxiety to render me material assistance, have offered me such diverse opinions as to its merit that their criticisms radiate from me in as many directions as there are spokes to a wheel.
This leaves the distraught hub with no opinion of its own, and with flaring, ragged edges.
Nevertheless, thus must it appear before the public, whose opinion will be the tire which shall enable my wheel to revolve. If it be favorable, one may look for smooth riding; if unfavorable, one must expect jolts.
It is a pity that there is no prettier term to bestow upon a girl bachelor of any age than Old Maid. "Spinster" is equally uncomfortable, suggesting, as it does, corkscrew curls and immoderate attenuation of frame; while "maiden lady," which the ultra-punctilious substitute, is entirely too mincing for sensible, whole-souled people to countenance.
I dare say that more women would have the courage to remain unmarried were there so euphonious a title awaiting them as that of "bachelor," which, when shorn of its accompanying adjective "old," simply means unmarried.
The word "bachelor," too, has somewhat of a jaunty sound, implying to the sensitive ear that its owner could have been married—oh, several times over—if he had wished. But both "spinster" and "old maid" have narrow, restricted attributes, which, to say the least, imply doubt as to past opportunity.
Names are covertly responsible for many overt acts. Carlyle, when he said, "The name is the earliest garment you wrap around the earth-visiting me. Names? Not only all common speech, but Science, Poetry itself, if thou consider it, is no other than a right naming," sounded a wonderful note in Moral Philosophy, which rings false many a time in real life, when to ring true would change the whole face of affairs.
Thus I boldly affirm, that were there a proper sounding title to cover the class of unmarried women, many a marriage which now takes place, with either moderate success or distinct failure, would remain in pleasing embryo.
Of the three evils among names for my book, therefore, I leave you to determine whether I have chosen the greatest or least. The writing of it came about in this way.
In a conversation concerning modern marriage, the unwisdom people display in choice, and the complicated affair it has come to be from a pastoral beginning, I said lightly, "I shall write a book upon this subject some fine day, and I shall call it 'The Love Affairs of an Old Maid,' because popular prejudice decrees that the love affairs of an old maid necessarily are those of other people."
No sooner had the name suggested in broad jest taken form in my mind than straightway every thought I possessed crystallized around it, and I found myself impelled by a malevolent Fate to begin it.
It became a fixed intention on a Sunday morning in church during a most excellent sermon, the text and substance of which I have forgotten. Doubtless more of real worth and benefit to mankind was pent up in that sermon than four books of my own writing could accomplish. But, with the delightful candor of John Kendrick Bangs, I explain my lapse of memory thus—
"I dote on Milton and on Robert Burns; I love old Marryat—his tales of pelf; I live on Byron; but my heart most yearns Towards those sweet things that I've penned myself."
So the book has been written. The existence of the Old Maid often has been a precarious one; she has been surrounded by danger, once narrowly escaping cremation. But my humanity towards dumb brutes saved her. I might have sacrificed a woman, but I could not kill a cat. So she lives, unconsciously owing her life to her cat.
Thus she comes to you, bearing her friends in her heart. I should scarcely dare ask you to welcome her, did I not suspect that her friends are yours. You have your Flossy and your Charlie Hardy without doubt. Pray Heaven you have a Rachel to outweigh them.
CHICAGO, March, 1893.
1. I INTRODUCE ME TO MYSELF 1
2. I COME INTO MY KINGDOM 8
3. MATRIMONY IN HARNESS 18
4. WOMEN AS LOVERS 30
5. THE HEART OF A COQUETTE 51
6. THE LONELY CHILDHOOD OF A CLEVER CHILD 65
7. A STUDY IN HUMAN GEESE 78
8. A GAME OF HEARTS 91
9. THE MADONNA OF THE QUIET MIND 120
10. THE PATHOS OF FAITH 137
11. THE HAZARD OF A HUMAN DIE 156
12. IN WHICH I WILLINGLY TURN MY FACE WESTWARD 174
THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF ON OLD MAID
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I INTRODUCE ME TO MYSELF
"There is a luxury in self-dispraise; And inward self-disparagement affords To meditative spleen a grateful feast."
To-morrow I shall be an Old Maid. What a trying thing to have to say even to one's self, and how vexed I should be if anybody else said it to me! Nevertheless, it is a comfort to be brutally honest once in a while to myself. I do not dare, I do not care, to be so to everybody. But with my own self, I can feel that it is strictly a family affair. If I hurt my feelings, I can grieve over it until I apologize. If I flatter myself, I am only doing what every other woman in the world is doing in her innermost consciousness, and flattery as honest as flattery from one's own self naturally would be could not fail to please me. Besides, it would have the unique value of being believed by both sides—a situation in the flattery line which I fancy has no rival.
It is well to become acquainted with one's self at all hazards, and as I am going to be my own partner in the rubber of life, I can do nothing better than to study my own hand. So, to harrow up my feelings as only I dare to do, I write down that it is really true of me that I passed the first corner five years ago, and to-morrow I shall be 30.
What a disagreeable figure a 3 is; I never noticed it before. It looks so self-satisfied. And as to that fat, hollow 0 which follows it—I always did detest round numbers.
30; there it goes again. I must accustom myself to it privately, so I write it down once more, and it laughs in my face and mocks me. Then I laugh back at it and say aloud that it is true, and for the time being I have cowed it and become its master. What boots it if the laughter is a trifle hollow? There is no harm in deceiving two miserable little figures.
Let me revel in my youth while I may. To-night I am a gay young thing of twenty-nine. To-morrow I shall be an Old Maid. I have very little time left in which to make myself ridiculous and have it excused on account of my youth. But somehow I do not feel very gay. I have a curious feeling about my heart, as if I were at a burial—one where I was burying something that I had always loved very dearly, but secretly, and which would always be a sweet and tender memory with me. I feel nervous, too, quite as if I did not know whether to laugh or to cry. I remember that Alice Asbury said she was hysterical just before she was married. I wonder if a woman's feelings on the eve of being an Old Maid are unlike those of one about to become a bride.
My cat sits eying me with sleepy approval. I always liked cats. And tea. Why have I never thought of it before? It is not my fault that I am an Old Maid. I was cut out for one. All my tendencies point that way. Please don't blame me, good people. Come here, Tabby. You and Missis will grow old together.
After all, it is a sad thing when one realizes for the first time that one's youth is slipping away. But why? Why do women of great intelligence, of intellect even, blush with pleasure at the implication of youth?
There are fashions in thought as well as in dress, and the best of us follow both, as sheep follow their leader. We will sometimes follow our neighbor's line of insular prejudice, when worlds could not bribe us to copy her grammar or her gowns. Dull people admire youth. They excuse its follies; they adore its prettiness. That it is only a period of education, and that real life begins with maturity, does not enter into their minds. The odor of bread and butter does not nauseate them. Dull people, I say—and God pity us, most of us are dull—admire youth. Men love it. Therefore we all want to be young. We strive to be young, nay, we will be young.
I am no better than my neighbors. I, too, am young when I am with people. But there are times when I am alone when the strain of being young relaxes, and I luxuriate in being old, old, old, when I cease being contemporary, and look back fondly to the time when the world and I were in embryo.
And yet I wonder if extreme age is as repulsive to everybody as it is to me. Forty seems a long way off. I fancy people at forty become very uninteresting to the oncoming generation. Fifty is grandmotherly and suitable for little else. Sixty, seventy, and beyond seem to me one horrible jumble of wrinkles and wheezes and false beauty and general unpleasantness. Oh, I hope, if I should live to be over fifty, that I may be a pleasant old person. I hope my teeth will fit me, and the parting to my wave be always in the middle. I hope my fingers will always come fully to the ends of my gloves, and that I never shall wear my spectacles on top of my head. But I hope more than all that it isn't wicked to wish to die before I come to these things.
Before I entirely lose my youth—in other words, before I become an Old Maid, let me see what I must give up. Lovers, of course. That goes without saying. And if I give them up, it will not do to have their photographs standing around. They must be—oh! and their letters—must they too be destroyed? Dear me, no! I'll just fold them all together and lay them away, like a wedding-dress which never has been worn. And I'll put girls' pictures or missionaries' or martyrs' into the empty frames. Martyrs' would be most appropriate.
Now for a box to put them in. A pretty box, so that one who runs may read? Not so, you sentimental Elderly Person. Take this tin box with a lock on it. There you are, done up in a japanned box and padlocked. I would say that it looks like a little coffin if I wasn't afraid of what my Alter Ego would say. She seems cross to-night. I wonder what is the matter with her. She must be getting old. I should like to hang the key around my neck on a blue ribbon, but I am afraid. "What if you should be run over and killed," she says, "or should faint away in church? Remember that you are an Old Maid." How disagreeable old maids can be! And I've got to live with this one always. I'll put the key in my purse. Nice, sensible, prosaic place, a purse.
How late it grows! I have only a little time left. I believe that clock is fast. Dear, dear! Do I want to just sit still and watch myself turn? I meant to have old age overtake me in my sleep. I think I'll stop that clock and let my youth fade from me unawares.
I COME INTO MY KINGDOM
"There is no compensation for the woman who feels that the chief relation of her life has been no more than a mistake. She has lost her crown. The deepest secret of human blessedness has half whispered itself to her and then forever passed her by."
I have become an Old Maid, and really it is a relief. I feel as if I had left myself behind me, and that now I have a right to the interests of other people when they are freely offered. My friends always have confided in me. I suppose it is because I am receptive. Men tell me their old love affairs. Girls tell me the whole story of their engagements—how they came to take this man, and why they did not take that one. And even the most ordinary are vitally interesting. Before I know it, I am rent with the same despair which agitates the lover confiding in me; or I am wreathed in the smiles of the engaged girl who is getting her absorbing secret comfortably off her mind. It seems to comfort them to air their emotion, and sometimes I am convinced that they leave the most of it with me.
Now I can feel at liberty to enjoy and sympathize as I will. Well, the love affairs of other people are the rightful inheritance of old maids. In sharing them I am only coming into my kingdom.
Alice Asbury has made shipwreck of hers. The girl is actively miserable and her husband is indifferently uncomfortable, which is the habit this married couple have of experiencing the same emotion.
Alice is a mass of contradictions to those who do not understand her—now in the clouds, now in the depths. Bad weather depresses her; so does a sad story, the death of a kitten, solemn music. She is correspondingly volatile in the opposite direction and often laughs at real calamities with wonderful courage. She has a fund of romance in her nature which has led her to the pass she now is in. She is clever, too, at introspection and analysis—of herself chiefly. She studies her own sensations and dissects her moods. Her selfishness is of the peculiar sort which should have kept her from marrying until she found the hundredth man who could appreciate her genius and bend it into nobler channels. Unfortunately she married one of the ninety-nine. She is not, perhaps, more selfish than many another woman, but her selfishness is different. She is mentally cross-eyed from turning her eyes inward so constantly.
She became engaged to Brandt—a man in every way worthy of her—and they loved each other devotedly. Then during a quarrel she broke the engagement, and he, being piqued by her withdrawal, immediately married May Lawrence, who had been patiently in love with him for five years, and who was only waiting for some such turn as this to deliver him into her hands. A poetic justice visits him with misery, for he still cares for Alice. May, however, is not conscious of this fact as yet.
Alice, being doubly stung by his defection, was just in the mood to do something desperate, when she began to see a great deal of Asbury, fresh from being jilted by Sallie Cox. Asbury was moody, and confided in Alice. Alice was foolish, and confided in him. They both decided that their hearts were ashes, love burned out, and life a howling wilderness, and then proceeded to exchange these empty hearts of theirs, and to go through the howling wilderness together.
Alice came to tell me about it. They had no love to give each other, she said sadly, but they were going to be married. I would have laughed at her if she had not been so tragic. But there is something about Alice, in spite of her romantic folly, (which she has adapted from the French to suit her American needs,) which forbids ridicule. Nevertheless I felt, with one of those sudden flashes of intuition, that this choice of hers was a hideous mistake. The situation repelled me. But the very strangeness of it seemed to attract the morbid Alice. And it was this one curious strain of unexplained foolishness marring her otherwise strong and in many ways beautiful character which prevented my loving her completely and safely. Nevertheless, I cared for her enough to enter my feeble and futile protest; but it was waved aside with the superb effrontery of a woman who feels that she controls the situation with her head, and whose heart is not at liberty to make uncomfortable complications. I would rather argue with a woman who is desperately in love, to prevent her marrying the man of her choice, than to try to dissuade a woman from marrying a man she has set her head upon. You feel sympathy with the former, and you have human nature and the whole glorious love-making Past at your back, to give you confidence and eloquence. But with the latter you are cowed and beaten beforehand, and tongue-tied during the contest.
So she became Alice Asbury, and these two blighted beings took a flat. Before they had been at home from their honeymoon a week she came down to see me, and told me that she hated Asbury.
Imagine a bride whose bouquet, only a month before, you had held at the altar, and heard her promise to love, honor, and obey a man until death did them part, coming to you with a confession like that. Still, if but one half she tells me of him is true, I do not wonder that she hates him.
With her revolutionary, anarchistic completeness, she has renounced the idea of compromise or adaptability as finally as if she had seen and passed the end of the world. There is no more pliability in her with regard to Asbury than there is in a steel rod. How different she used to be with Brandt! How she consulted his wishes and accommodated herself to him!
When a woman born to be ruled by love only passes by her master spirit, she becomes an anomaly in woman—she makes complications over which the psychologist wastes midnight oil, and if he never discovers the solution, it is because of its very simplicity.
All the sweetness seems to have left Alice's nature. She keeps somebody with her every moment. That one guest chamber in her flat has been occupied by all the girls that she can persuade to visit her. Asbury dislikes company, but she says she does not care. She cannot keep visitors long, because as soon as they discover that they are unwelcome to Asbury, naturally they go home.
Fortunately, Asbury does not care for Sallie Cox any more. When his vanity was wounded, his love died instantly. I think he is more in love with himself than he ever was with any woman. There are men, you know, whose one grand passion in life is for themselves. But Alice knows that Brandt still cares for her, and she feeds her romantic fancy on this fact, and has her introspective miseries to her heart's content. She is far too cool-headed a woman to do anything rash. Sometimes I think her morbid nature obtains more real satisfaction out of her joyless situation than positive happiness would compensate her for. She appears to take a certain negative pleasure in it. Their marriage is the product of a false civilization, and I pity them—at a distance—from the bottom of my heart. I am sorry for Brandt, too, for he honestly loved Alice and might have proved the hundredth man—who knows?
I do not quite know whether to be sorry for May Brandt or not, for she made complications and made them purposely. She made them so promptly, too, that she precluded the possibility of a reconciliation between Alice and Brandt. If Brandt had remained single, I doubt whether Alice would have had the courage to form an engagement with any other man. She loved him too truly to take the first step towards an eternal separation. Women seldom dare make that first move, except as a decoy. They are naturally superstitious, and even when curiously free from this trait in everything else, they cling to a little in love, and dare not tempt Fate too insolently.
A woman who has quarrelled with her lover, in her secret heart expects him back daily and hourly, no matter what the cause of the estrangement, until he becomes involved with another woman. Then she lays all the blame of his defection at the door of the alien, where, in the opinion of an Old Maid, it generally belongs.
If other women would let men alone, constancy would be less of a hollow mockery. (Query, but is it constancy where there is no temptation to be fickle?) Nevertheless, let "another woman" sympathize with an estranged lover, and place a little delicate blame upon his sweetheart and flatter him a great deal, and presto! you have one of those criss-cross engagements which turns life to a dull gray for the aching heart which is left out.
If, too, when this honestly loving woman appears to take the first step, her actions and mental processes could be analyzed and timed, it frequently would prove that, with her quicker calculations, she foresaw the fatal effect of the "other-woman" element, and, desirous of protecting her vanity, reached blindly out to the nearest man at her command, and married him with magnificent effrontery, just to circumvent humiliation and to take a little wind out of the other woman's sails. But could you make her lover believe that? Never.
And so May Lawrence played the "other woman" in the Asbury tragedy. I wonder if she is satisfied with her role. A girl who wilfully catches a man's heart on the rebound, does the thing which involves more risk than anything else malevolent fate could devise.
On the whole, I think I am sorry for her, for she has apples of Sodom in her hand, although as yet to her delighted gaze they appear the fairest of summer fruit.
MATRIMONY IN HARNESS
"What eagles are we still In matters that belong to other men; What beetles in our own!"
The more I know of horses, the more natural I think men and women are in the unequalness of their marriages. I never yet saw a pair of horses so well matched that they pulled evenly all the time. The more skilful the driver, the less he lets the discrepancy become apparent. Going up hill, one horse generally does the greater share of work. If they pull equally up hill, sometimes they see-saw and pull in jerks on a level road. And I never saw a marriage in which both persons pulled evenly all the time, and the worst of it is, I suppose this unevenness is only what is always expected.
Having no marriage of my own to worry over, it is gratuitous when I worry over other people's. Old maids, you know, like to air their views on matrimony and bringing up children. Their theories on these subjects have this advantage—that they always hold good because they never are tried.
There never was such an unequal yoking together as the Herricks'. Nobody has told me. This is one of the affairs which has not been confided to me. Only, I knew them both so well before they were married. I knew Bronson Herrick best, however, because I never used to see any more of Flossy than was necessary.
To begin with, I never liked her name. I have an idea that names show character. Could anybody under heaven be noble with such a name as Flossy? I believe names handicap people. I believe children are sometimes tortured by hideous and unmeaning names. But give them strong, ugly names in preference to Ina and Bessie and Flossy and such pretty-pretty names, with no meaning and no character to them. Take my own name, Ruth. If I wanted to be noble or heroic I could be; my name would not be an anomalous nightmare to attract attention to the incongruity. We cannot be too thankful to our mothers who named us Mary and Dorothy and Constance. What an inspiration to be "faithful over a few things" such a name as Constance must be!
But Flossy's mother named her—not Florence, but Flossy. I suppose she was one of those fluffy, curly, silky babies. She grew to be that kind of a girl—a Flossy girl. It speaks for itself. I suppose with that name she never had any incentive to outgrow her nature.
It came out on her wedding cards:
"Mr. and Mrs. CHARLES FAY CARLETON request you to be present at the marriage of their daughter FLOSSY to Mr. BRONSON STURGIS HERRICK."
The contrast between the two names, hers so nonsensical and his so dignified and strong, was no greater than that between the two people. In truth, their names were symbolic of their natures. It looked really pitiful to me.
I wondered if anybody besides Rachel English and me looked into their future with apprehension. Our misgivings, I must admit, were all for Bronson.
Ah, well-a-day! It is so easy to feel sympathy for a man you admire, especially if he is strong and loyal, and does not ask or desire it of you.
Flossy was one of those cuddling girls. She appealed to you with her eyes, and you found yourself petting her and sympathizing with her, when, if you stopped to think, you would see that she had more of everything than you had. She possessed a rich father, a beautiful house, and perfect health. Nevertheless, you found yourself asking after "poor Flossy," and your voice commiserated her if your words did not. She invariably had some trifling ill to tell you of. She had hurt her arm, or scratched her hand, or the snow made her eyes ache, or she was tired. She never seemed at liberty to enjoy herself, although she went everywhere, and seemed to do so successfully in spite of her imaginary ills, if you let her enjoy herself by telling you of them.
Everybody helped Flossy to live. Everybody protected and looked after her. There was some one on his knees continually, removing invisible brambles from her rose-leaf path. She didn't know how to do anything for herself. She never buttoned her own boots. When her maid was not with her, other people put her jacket on for her, and carried her umbrella and buttoned her gloves. Men always buttoned her gloves, and her gloves always had more buttons, and more unruly buttons, than any other gloves I ever saw. But then I am elderly.
I never knew Flossy to do anything for anybody. She never gave things away, but on Christmas and her birthdays she received remembrances from everybody. I used to make her presents without knowing why or even thinking of it. Flossy's name was on all the Christmas lists, and she used to shed tears over the kindness of her friends, and write the prettiest notes to them, so plaintive and self-deprecatory. Then they took her to drive, or did something more for her. Flossy read poetry and cried over it. She wrote poetry too, and other people cried over that.
When Bronson Herrick told me he was going to marry her, I wanted to say, "No, you are not." But I didn't. I did not even seem to be surprised, for he is so proud he would have resented any surprise on my part. He told me about it of course, knowing that I could not fail to be pleased. (His photograph is in that japanned box of mine. This smile on my face, Tabby, is rather sardonic. Why is it that men expect an old sweetheart to take an active interest in their bride-elect, and are so deadly sure that they will like each other?)
"She is the most sympathetic little thing," he said enthusiastically. "She reminds me of you in so many ways. You are very much alike."
"Oh, thank you, Bronson Sturgis Herrick! I assure you I would cheerfully drown myself if I thought you were right about that," I exclaimed mentally.
He repeated over and over that she was "so sympathetic." He meant, of course, that she had wept over him. Flossy's tears flow like rain if you crook your finger at her, and tears wring the heart of a man like Bronson. To think he was going to marry her! I just looked at him, I remember, as he stood so straight and tall before me, and said to myself, "Well, you dear, honest, loyal, clever man! You are just the kind of a man that women fool most unmercifully. But it's nature, and you can't help it. Go and marry this Flossy girl, and commit mental suicide if you must."
So he married her five years ago, and became her man-servant.
When they had been married about a year, people said that Bronson was working himself to death. I, being an Old Maid, and liking to meddle with other people's business, told him that I thought he ought to take a vacation. He said he couldn't afford it. I was honestly surprised at that, because, while he was not rich, he was extremely well-to-do, with a rapidly increasing law practice. And then Flossy's father had been very generous when she married him. He was considerate enough to reply to my look.
"You know I married a rich girl. Flossy's money is her own. She has saved it—I wished her to save it, I wished it—and I am doing my level best to support her as nearly as possible in the way in which she has been accustomed to live. She ought to have an easier time, poor child."
So he did not take a vacation, and the summer was very hot, and when Flossy came home from Rye she found him wretchedly ill, and discovered that he had had a trained nurse for two weeks before he let her know anything about it. Then people pitied Flossy for having her summer interrupted, and Flossy felt that it was a shame; but she very willingly sat and fanned Bronson for as much as an hour every day and answered questions languidly and was pale, and people sent her flowers and were extremely sorry for her.
When Bronson became well enough to go away, as his doctors ordered, for a complete rest, Rachel English happened to go on the same train with them, and the next day I received a letter, or rather an envelope, from her, with this single sentence enclosed: "And if she didn't make him hold her in his arms in broad daylight every step of the way, because the train jarred her back!"
(Tabby, there is no use in talking. I must stop and pull your ears. Come here and let Missis be really rough with you for a minute.)
There are some women who prefer a valet to a husband; who think that the more menial are his services in public, the more apparent is his devotion. It is a Roman-chariot-wheel idea, which degrades both the man and the woman in the eyes of the spectators. I wrote to Rachel, and said in the letter, "One horse in the span always does most of the pulling, you know, especially uphill." And Rachel wrote back, "Wouldn't I just like to drive this pair, though!"
Bronson had his ideals before he was married, as most men have, concerning the kind of a home he hoped for. He always said that it was not so much what your home was, as how it was. He believed that a home consisted more in the feelings and aims of its inmates than in rugs and jardinieres. He said to me once, "The oneness of two people could make a home in Sahara."
He was ambitious, too, feeling within himself that power which makes orators and statesmen, but needing the approval and encouragement of some one who also realized his capabilities, to enable him to do his best. He himself was the one who was sympathetic, if he had only known it. His nature responded with the utmost readiness to whatever appealed to him from the side of right or justice.
He had noble hopes in many directions, hopes which inspired me to believe in his truth and goodness, aside from his capabilities for achieving greatness. His eagle sight, which read through other men's shams and pretences; his moral sense, which bade him shun even the appearance of evil, not only permitted, but urged him, seemingly, into this marriage with Flossy, by which he effectually cut himself off from his dearest aspirations. One by one I have seen him relinquish them, holding to them lovingly to the last. The hours at home, which he intended to give to study and research, have been sacrificed to the petting and nursing of a perfectly well woman, who demanded it of him. His home life, where he had dreamed of a congenial atmosphere, where the centripetal force should be the love of wife and children, merged into frequent journeys for Flossy—who would have been happy if she never had been obliged to stay in one place over a week—and a shifting of their one child Rachel into the care of nurses, because Flossy fretted at the care of her and demanded all of Bronson's time for herself.
Thus was Bronson's life being twisted and bent from its natural course. Was it a weakness in him? To be sure he might have shown his strength by breaking loose from family ties, and, hardening his heart to his wife's plaints, have carried out his ambitions with some degree of success. He did attempt this, nor did he fail in his career. He was called a fairly successful man. I dare say the majority of people never knew that he was created for grander things. But something was sapping his energy at the fountain-head. Was he realizing that he had helped to shatter his ideals with his own hand?
I never am so well satisfied with my lot of single-blessedness as when I contemplate the sort of wife Flossy makes. That may sound arrogant, but this is a secret session of human nature, when arrogance and all native-born sins are permissible.
Flossy is perfectly unconscious of the spectacle she presents to the world. Ah, me! I know it is said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." I might have made him just such a wife, I suppose. O heavens! no, I shouldn't. Tabby, that is making humility go a little too far.
WOMEN AS LOVERS
"In every clime and country There lives a Man of Pain, Whose nerves, like chords of lightning, Bring fire into his brain: To him a whisper is a wound, A look or sneer, a blow; More pangs he feels in years or months Than dunce-throng'd ages know."
I have had such a curious experience. I have been confided in, twice in one day. Two more bits out of other lives have been given to me, and it is astonishing to see how well they piece into mine.
To begin with, Rachel English came in early. There is something particularly auspicious about Rachel. She fits me like a glove. She never jars nor grates. When she is here, I am comfortable; when she is gone, I miss something. If I see a fine painting, or hear magnificent music, I think of Rachel before any other thought comes into my mind. One involuntarily associates her with anything wonderfully fine in art or literature, with the perfect assurance that she will be sympathetic and appreciative. She understands the deep, inarticulate emotions in the kindred way you have a right to expect of your lover, and which you are oftenest disappointed in, if you do expect it of him. If I were a man, I should be in love with Rachel.
Her sensitiveness through every available channel makes her of no use to general society. Blundering people tread on her; malicious ones tear her to pieces. Rachel ought to be caged, and only approached by clever people who have brains enough to appreciate her. I should like to be her keeper. But her organization is too closely allied to that of genius to be happy, unless with certain environments which it is too good to believe will ever surround her. She is so clever that she is perfectly helpless. If you knew her, this would not be a paradox. Possibly it isn't anyway.
I do not say that Rachel is perfect. She would be desperately uncomfortable as a friend if she were. Her failings are those belonging to a frank, impulsive, generous nature, which I myself find it easy to forgive. Her gravest fault is a witty tongue. That which many people would give years of their lives to possess is what she has shed the most tears over and which she most liberally detests in herself. She calls it her private demon, and says she knows that one of the devils, in the woman who was possessed of seven, was the devil of wit.
Wit is a weapon of defence, and was no more intended to be an attribute of woman than is a knowledge of fire-arms or a fondness for mice. A witty woman is an anomaly, fit only for literary circles and to be admired at a distance.
It is of no use to advise Rachel to curb her tongue. So tender-hearted that the sight of an animal in pain makes her faint; so humble-minded that she cannot bear to receive an apology, but, no matter what has been the offence, cuts it off short and hastens to accept it before it is uttered, with the generous assurance that she, too, has been to blame; yet she wounds cruelly, but unconsciously, with her tongue, which cleaves like a knife, and holds up your dearest, most private foibles on stilettos of wit for the public to mock at. Not that she is personal in her allusions, but her thorough knowledge of the philosophy of human nature and the deep, secret springs of human action lead her to witty, satirical generalizations, which are so painfully true that each one of her hearers goes home hugging a personal affront, while poor Rachel never dreams of lacerated feelings until she meets averted faces or hears a whisper of her heinous sin. This grieves her wofully, but leaves her with no mode of redress, for who dare offer balm to wounded vanity? I believe her when she says she "never wilfully planted a thorn in any human breast."
She scarcely had entered before I saw that she had something on her mind. And it was not long before she began to confide, but in an impersonal way.
There is something which makes you hold your breath before you enter the inner nature of some one who has extraordinary depth. You feel as if you were going to find something different and interesting, and possibly difficult or explosive. It is dark, too, yet you feel impelled to enter. It is like going into a cave.
Most people are afraid of Rachel. Sometimes I am. But it is the alluring, hysterical fear which makes a child say, "Scare me again."
Imagine such a girl in love. Rachel is in love. She would not say with whom—naturally. At least, naturally for Rachel. I felt rather helpless, but as I knew that all she wanted was an intelligent sympathizer, not verbal assistance, I was willing to blunder a little. I knew she would speedily set me right.
"You are too clever to marry," I said at a hazard.
"That is one of the most popular of fallacies," she answered me crushingly. "Why can't clever women marry, and make just as good wives as the others? Why can't a woman bend her cleverness to see that her house is in order, and her dinners well cooked, and buttons sewed on, as well as to discuss new books and keep pace with her husband intellectually? Do you suppose because I know Greek that I cannot be in love? Do you suppose because I went through higher mathematics that I never pressed a flower he gave me? Do you imagine that Biology kills blushing in a woman? Do you think that Philosophy keeps me from crying myself to sleep when I think he doesn't care for me, or growing idiotically glad when he tells me he does? What rubbish people write upon this subject! Even Pope proved that he was only a man when he said,
"'Love seldom haunts the breast where learning lies, And Venus sets ere Mercury can rise.'
"Did you ever read such foolishness?"
"Often, my dear, often. But console yourself. A wiser than Pope says, 'The learned eye is still the loving one.'"
"Browning, of course. I ought not to be surprised that the prince of poets should be clever enough to know that. It is from his own experience. 'Who writes to himself, writes to an eternal public.' You see, Ruth, men can't help looking at the question from the other side, because they form the other side. You might cram a woman's head with all the wisdom of the ages, and while it would frighten every man who came near her into hysterics, it wouldn't keep her from going down abjectly before some man who had sense enough to know that higher education does not rob a woman of her womanliness. Depend upon it, Ruth, when it does, she would have been unwomanly and masculine if she hadn't been able to read. And it is the man who marries a woman of brains who is going to get the most out of this life."
"Men don't want clever wives," I said feebly.
"Clever men don't. Why is it that all the brightest men we know have selected girls who looked pretty and have coddled them? Look at Bronson and Flossy. That man is lonesome, I tell you, Ruth. He actually hungers and thirsts for his intellectual and moral affinity, and yet even he did not have the sense—the astuteness—to select a wife who would have stood at his side, instead of one who lay in a wad at his feet. Oh, the bungling marriages that we see! I believe one reason is that like seldom marries like. For my part I do not believe in the marriage of opposites. Look at Robert Browning and his wife. That is my ideal marriage. Their art and brains were married, as well as their hands and hearts. It is pure music to think of it. And, to me, the most pathetic poem in the English language is Browning's 'Andrea del Sarto.'"
"Isn't it strange to see the kind of men who love clever women like you? You never could have brought yourself to marry any of them, expecting to find them congenial. They would have admired you in dumb silence, until they grew tired of feeling your superiority; after that—what?"
"The deluge, I suppose. Ruth, I don't see how a woman with any self-respect can marry until she meets her master. That is high treason, isn't it? But it is one of those sentient bits of truth which we never mention in society. The man I marry must have a stronger will and a greater brain than I have, or I should rule him. I'll never marry until I find a man who knows more than I do. Yet, as to these other men who have loved me—you know what a tender place a woman has in her heart for the men who have wanted to marry her. My intellect repudiated, but my heart cherishes them still. Odd things, hearts. Sometimes I wish we didn't have any when they ache so. I feel like disagreeing with all the poets to-day, because they will not say what I believe. Do you remember this, from Beaumont and Fletcher,
"'Of all the paths that lead to woman's love Pity's the straightest'?
"Men are fond of saying that, I notice, but I don't think we women bear out the truth. I couldn't love a man I pitied. I could love one I was proud of, or afraid of, but one I pitied? Never. It is more true to say it of men. I believe plenty of girls obtain husbands by virtue of their weakness, their loneliness, their helplessness, their—anything which makes a man pity them. Pleasant thought, isn't it, for a woman who loves her own sex and wishes it held its head up better! You may say that it is this sort who receive more of the attentions that women love, chivalry and tenderness and devotion. But if all or any of these were inspired by pity, I'd rather not have them. I would rather a man would be rough and brusque with me, if he loved me heroically, than to see him fling his coat in the mud for me to step on, because he pitied my weakness. Do you know, Ruth, I think men are a good deal more human than women. You can work them out by algebra (for they never have more than one unknown quantity, and in the woman problem there would be more x's than anything else), and you can go by rules and get the answer. But nothing ever calculated or evolved can get the final answer to one woman—though they do say she is fond of the last word! We understand ourselves intuitively, and we understand men by study, yet we are made the receivers, not the givers; the chosen, not the choosers. It really is an absurd dispensation when you view it apart from sentiment, yet I, for one, would not have it changed. I should not mind being Cupid for a while, though, and giving him a few ideas in the mating line.
"I think women are often misjudged. Men seem to think that all we want is to be loved. Now, it isn't all that I want. If I had to choose between being loved by a man—the man, let us say—and not loving him at all, or loving him very dearly and not being loved by him, I would choose the latter, for I think that more happiness comes from loving than from being loved."
"Why don't you marry somebody?" I asked in an agony of entreaty, for fear all of this would be wasted on me, an Old Maid, rather than upon some man. She shook her head.
"It needs a compelling, not a persuasive, power to win a woman. No man who takes me like this," closing her thumb and forefinger as if holding a butterfly, "can have me. The one who dares to take me like this," clenching her hand, "will get me. But he will not come."
Then I walked with her to the door, and she bent over me, and whispered something about my being a "blessed comfort" to her, and went away. Ah, Tabby, my dear, it is worth while being an Old Maid to be a blessed comfort to anybody. But I would just like to ask you, as a cat of intelligence, what in the world I did for her!
Imagine some man making that girl care for him so much. For, of course, it is somebody. A girl does not say such things about the abstract man.
I was in an uplifted state of mind all day, as I am always after a talk with Rachel, and when Percival came in the evening, I felt that I could deluge him with my gathered sentiment, and he would be receptive. Besides, Percival has a positive genius for understanding. I did not know it, however, this morning. I seldom know as much in the morning as I do at night.
Percival approves of sentiment. He said once that a life which had principle and sentiment needed little else, for principle was to stand upon, and sentiment was to beautify with. He said this after I had told him rather apologetically that I wished there was more sentiment in the world, because I liked it. Is it strange that I like Percival? You can't help admiring people who approve of you.
Percival is a genius. People in general do not recognize this fact. He is an inarticulate genius. Men feel that he is in some occult way different from them, yet they do not know just how. Nor will they ever take the trouble to study out a problem in human nature, either in man or woman, unless they are philosophers.
Women care for Percival in proportion to their intuitions. You must comprehend him synthetically. You cannot dissect him. With generous appreciation and sympathetic encouragement, Percival's genius would become articulate. To discover it he must needs marry—but he must wait for the hundredth woman. This, of course, he will not do. If he can find a Flossy, he will go down on his knees to her, when she ought to be on hers to him; metaphorical knees, in this case.
I am very much afraid he has found her. He is in love. You can always tell when a man is in love, Tabby, especially if he is not the lovering kind and has never been troubled in that way before. The best kind of love has to be so intuitive that it often is grandly, heroically awkward. Depend upon it, Tabby, a man who is dainty and pretty and unspeakably smooth when he makes love to you, has had altogether too much practice.
Percival knows that he is in love—that is one great step in the right direction. But he is in that first partly alarmed, partly curious frame of mind that a man would be in who touched his broken arm for the first time to see how much it hurt. Whoever she is, he loves her deeply and thinks she never can care for him. He did not tell me this. If he thought that I knew it, he would wonder how in the world I found it out. Women are born lovers. They have to do the bulk of the loving all through the world. I told Percival so. At first he seemed surprised; then he said that it was true. I believe some men could go through life without loving anybody on earth. But the woman never lived who could do it. A woman must love something—even if she hasn't anything better to love than a pug-dog or herself.
"Why aren't women the choosers?" said Percival seriously. The same question twice in one day, Tabby. "Whenever I think of understanding the question of love, I wish for a woman's intuitions. Women know so much about it. They absorb the whole question at a glance. But, with so many different kinds of women, how is a man to know anything?"
I always liked Percival, but a woman never likes a man so well as when he acknowledges his helplessness in her particular line of knowledge, and throws himself on her mercy. Mentally, I at once began to feel motherly towards Percival, and clucked around him like an old hen. He went on to say that men often are not so blind that they cannot see the prejudices and complexities of a woman's nature, but they are not constituted to understand them by intuition as women understand men. "The masculine mind," he said, "is but ill-attuned to the subtle harmonies of the feminine heart."
I was secretly very much pleased at this remark, but I made myself answer as became an Old Maid, just to make him continue without self-consciousness. If I had blushed and thanked him, he would have gone home.
"They set these things down to the natural curiousness and contrariness of women, and often despise what they cannot comprehend."
He answered me with the heightened consciousness and slight irritation of a man who has been in that fault, but has seen and mended it.
"All men do not. Still, how can they help it at times?"
Then, Tabby, I went a-sailing. I launched out on my favorite theme.
"Men must needs study women. Often the terror with which some men regard these—to us—perfectly transparent complexities, could be avoided if they would analyze the cause with but half the patience they display in the case of an ailing trotter. But no; either they edge carefully away from such dangers as they previously have experienced, or, if they blunder into new ones, they give the woman a sealskin and trust to time to heal the breach."
I thought of the Asburys when I said that. But Percival ruminated upon it, as if it touched his own case. A very good thing about Percival is that he does not think he knows everything. It encourages me to believe in his genius. To rouse him from a brown-study over this Flossy girl, I said rather recklessly,
"I should like to be a man for a while, in order to make love to two or three women. I would do it in a way which should not shock them with its coarseness or starve them with its poverty. As it is now, most women deny themselves the expression of the best part of their love, because they know it will be either a puzzle or a terror to their lovers."
Percival was vitally interested at once.
"Is that really so?" he asked. "Do you suppose any of them withhold anything from such a fear?" His face was so uplifted that I plunged on, thoroughly in the dark, but, like Barkis, "willin'." If I could be of use to him in an emergency, I was only too happy.
"Men never realize the height of the pedestal where women in love place them, nor do they know with how many perfections they are invested nor how religiously women keep themselves deceived on the subject. They cannot comprehend the succession of little shocks which is caused by the real man coming in contact with the ideal. And if they did understand, they would think that such mere trifles should not affect the genuine article of love, and that women simply should overlook foibles, and go on loving the damaged article just as blindly as before. But what man could view his favorite marble tumbling from its pedestal continually, and losing first a finger, then an arm, then a nose, and would go on setting it up each time, admiring and reverencing in the mutilated remains the perfect creation which first enraptured him? He wouldn't take the trouble to fill up the nicks and glue on the lost fingers as women do to their idols. He wouldn't even try to love it as he used to do. When it began to look too battered up, he would say, 'Here, put this thing in the cellar and let's get it out of the way.'"
Percival listened with specific interest, and admitted its truth with a fair-mindedness surprising even in him.
"Do you suppose it is possible for a man ever to thoroughly understand a woman?" he asked, with a retrospective slowness, directed, I was sure, towards that empty-headed sweetheart of his.
"I really do not know," I said honestly. "I think if he tried with all his might he could."
"Do you think—you know me better than any one else does—do you think I could, if I gave my whole mind to it?"
"You, if anybody." I answered him with the occasional absolute truthfulness which occurs between a man and a woman when they are completely lifted out of themselves. Something more than mere pleasure shone in his eyes. It was as if I had reached his soul.
"If no man ever has been all that a woman in love really believes him, the best a man could do would be to take care that she never found out her mistake," he said slowly.
"Exactly," I said; "you are getting on. It is only another way of making yourself live up to her ideal of you."
"Supposing after all, that the woman I love will have none of me," he said, unconsciously slipping from the third person to the first.
"I wouldn't admit even the possibility if I were a man. I would besiege the fortress. I would sit on her front doorstep until she gave in. Don't ask her to have you. Tell her you are going to have her whether or no," I cried, thinking of Rachel's words. He looked so encouraged that I am afraid I have sent him post-haste to the Flossy girl, and gotten him into life-long trouble. But I had gone too far. I quite hurried, in my accidental endeavor to shipwreck him.
"Men do not understand these things, because they will not give time enough to them. Real love-making requires the patience, the tenderness, the sympathy which women alone possess in the highest degree. Possibly she loves you deeply, only you do not believe it. Gauged by a woman's love, many men love, marry, and die, without even approximating the real grand passion themselves, or comprehending that which they have inspired, for no one but a woman can fathom a woman's love."
I couldn't help going on after I started, for he was thinking of the other woman, and looking at me in a way that would have made my heart turn over, if I hadn't been an Old Maid, and known that his look was not for me.
Then he ground my rings into my hand until I nearly shrieked with the pain, and said, "God bless you!" very hoarsely, and dashed out of the house before I could pull myself together. I say so too. God bless me, what have I done? I've sent him straight to that Flossy girl. I feel it. I've smoothed out something between them. I have accidentally made him articulate, and articulation in such a man as Percival is overpowering. He is a murdered man, and mine is the hand that slew him.
Tabby, old maids are a public nuisance, not to say dangerous. They ought to be suppressed.
* * * * *
I wonder if he will burst in upon her with that look upon his face!
THE HEART OF A COQUETTE
"Strange, that a film of smoke can blot a star!"
He did. And the woman was—Rachel. Tabby, I never was better pleased with myself in my life. I love old maids. I think that whenever they are accidental they are perfectly lovely. But what a risk I ran!
I did not know a thing about it until I received their wedding-cards. It was just like Rachel not to tell me, and it was insufferably stupid in me not to use the few wits I am possessed of, and see how matters stood. But my fears and tremors were that Frankie Taliaferro would get him, so I have watched her all this time. Percival laughed almost scornfully when I told him this, and said I had been barking up the wrong tree. I retaliated by saying that if they had been ordinary lovers, I never could have made such a mistake, and they took it as a great compliment. When I consider the general run of engaged people, I am inclined to agree with them. Everybody seems to think they are making an experiment of marriage, because they are so much alike. But, then, doesn't every one who marries at all, Jew or Gentile, black or white, bond or free, make an experiment? I myself have no fear as to how the Percival experiment will turn out. Rachel says that they are so similar in all their tastes and ideals that if she were a man she would be Percival, and if he were a woman he would be Rachel. "Then you still would have a chance to marry each other," I said frivolously. But she assented with a depth of feeling which ignored my feeble attempt to be cheerful. "Yet," she continued, "there is a subtle, alluring difference in our thoughts; just enough to add piquancy, not irritation, to a discussion. I do not love white, and he does not love black, as so many husbands and wives do. We both love gray; different tones of gray, but still gray. It is very restful." The Percivals are not only restful to themselves, but to others. They used to be in the highly irritable, nervous state of those whose sensitive organisms are a little too fine for this world. I never objected to it myself, but I have said before that Rachel was of no use to ordinary society, and Percival was little better. When people failed to understand her, she retired into herself with a dignity which was mistaken for ill-temper. She is too refined and high-minded to defend herself against the "slings and arrows of outrageous" people, although if she would, she could exterminate them with her wit. And some could so easily be spared. It seems, too, that she is great enough to be a target, so she is under fire continually. This, while it causes her exquisite suffering, is from no fault of her own—save the unforgivable one of being original. "A frog spat at a glow-worm. 'Why do you spit at me?' said the glow-worm. 'Why do you shine so?' said the frog." And as to Percival—the man I used to know was Percival in embryo. He is maturing now, and is radiant in Rachel's sympathetic comprehension of him. He refers to the time before he knew her as his "protoplasmic state," as indeed it was. But there are a good many of us who would be willing to remain protoplasm all our lives to possess a tithe of his genius—you and I among the number, Tabby. You needn't look at me so reproachfully out of your old-gold eyes. You know you would.
You have seen Sallie Cox, haven't you? Then you know how it jarred my nerves to have her rush in upon me when my mind was full of the Percivals.
Sallie has flirted joyously through life thus far, and has appeared to have about as little heart as any girl I ever knew. Sallie is the sauce piquante in one's life—absolutely necessary at times to make things taste at all, but a little of her goes a long way. At least so I thought until to-day.
"I've got something to tell you, Ruth," she said, "so come with me, and we will take a little drive before going to cooking-school."
I went, knowing, of course, that she wanted to confide something about some of her lovers.
"I am going to be married," she announced coldly. "It's Payson Osborne this time, and I'm really going to see the thing through. It's rather a joke on me, because it commenced this way. I was sick of lovers, and some of the last had been so unpleasant, not to say rude, when I threw them over, that I thought I would take a vacation. So when I met Payson, I said, 'What do you say to a Platonic friendship?' It sounds harmless, you know, Ruth, and he, not knowing me at all, assented. If he had been a man who knew of my checkered career, he would have refused, suspecting, of course, that I was going to flirt with him under a new name. But, as I was serious this time, I knew it was all right. So we began. I suppose you know he is enormously rich, besides being so handsome, and there will not be a girl in town who won't say I raised heaven and earth to get him; but I don't mind telling you, Ruth—because you are such an old dear, and never are bothered with lovers(!); besides, it will do me good to tell it, and I know you will never betray me—that I never cared for any man on earth except Winston Percival. You needn't jump, and look as though the house was on fire. It's the solemn truth, and I never dreamed that he cared for Rachel until he married her. Mind you, he never pretended to love me. It is every bit one-sided, and I don't care if it is. I am glad that a frivolous, shallow-minded, rattle-brained thing like me had sense enough to fall in love with the most glorious man that ever came into her life. I shouldn't have made him half as good a wife as Rachel does—I really feel as if they were made for each other—but he would have made a woman of me. I'm honestly glad he is so happy, and things are much more suitable as they are, for Payson is a thorough-going society man, and doesn't ask much in a wife or he wouldn't have me, and he doesn't expect much from a wife or he couldn't get me.
"Perhaps you don't know that a girl who makes a business of wearing scalps at her belt never stands a bit of a chance with a man she really loves, for she is afraid to practise on him the wiles which she knows from experience have been successful with scores of others, because she feels that he will see through them, and scorn her as she scorns herself in his presence. She loses her courage, she loses control of herself, and, being used to depend on 'business,' as actors say, to carry out her role successfully, she finds that she is only reading her lines, and reading them very badly too. If you could have seen me with Percival, you would know what I mean. I was dull, uninteresting, poky—no more the Sallie Cox that other men know than I am you. He absorbed my personality. I didn't care for myself or how I appeared. I only wanted him to shine and be his natural, brilliant self. I never could have helped him in his work. The most I could have hoped to do would have been not to hinder him. I would have been the gainer—it would have been the act of a home missionary for him to marry me."
She laughed drearily.
"Isn't it horribly immoral in me to sit here and talk in this way about a married man? It's a wonder it doesn't turn the color of the cushions. If you hear of my having the brougham relined, Ruth, you will know why. Ruth, I am so miserable at times it seems to me that I shall die. I'd love to cry this minute—cry just as hard as I could, and scream, and beat my head against something hard—how do you do, Mrs. Asbury?—but instead, I have to bow from the windows to people, and remember that I am supposed to be the complaisant bride-elect of the catch of the season. It is a judgment on me, Ruth, to find that I have a heart, when I have always gone on the principle that nobody had any. Yes—how-de-do, Miss Culpepper? excuse me a minute, Ruth, while I hate that girl. What has she done to me? Oh, nothing to speak of—she only had the bad taste to fall in love with the man I am going to marry. Writes him notes all the time, making love to him, which he promptly shows to me—oh, we are not very honorable, or very upright, or very anything good in the Osborne matrimonial arrangement. Anybody but you would hate me for all this I've told you, but I know you are pitying me with all your soul, because you know the empty-headed Sallie Cox carries with her a very sore heart, and that it will take more than Payson Osborne has got to give to heal it. I call him Pay sometimes, but he hates it. I only do it when I think how much he does pay for a very bad bargain. But he doesn't care, so why should I?
"It really does seem odd, when I look back on it, to see how easy it was to get him, when all the time I was perfectly indifferent to him, and received his attentions on the Platonic basis to keep him from making love to me. I really think I never had any one to care for me in so exactly the way I like, and to be so easy in his demands, and to think me so altogether perfect and charming, no matter what I do. It was because I was absolutely indifferent to him. I never cared when he came. I never cared when he went. Other lovers fussed and quarrelled and were jealous and disagreeable when I flirted with other men, but Payson never cared. He didn't tease me, you know. And whenever he said anything, I could look innocent and say, 'Is that Platonic friendship?' So he would have to subside. I know he thought some of my indifference was assumed, for when he told me about Miss Culpepper he thought I would be vexed. I was vexed, but I had presence of mind not to show it. I only laughed and made no comment at all—asked him what time it was, I believe. Then when he looked so disappointed and sulky, I knew I was right, and I patted Sallie Cox on the head for being so clever—so clever as not to care, chiefly. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, you cannot do with a man who loves you, if you don't care a speck for him. And the luxury of perfect indifference! Emotions are awfully wearing, Ruth. I wonder that these emotional women like Rachel get on at all. I should think they would die of the strain. Men are always deadly afraid of such women. I believe Payson wouldn't stop running till he got to California if I should burst into tears and not be able to tell him instantly just exactly where my neuralgia had jumped to. No unknown waverings and quaverings of the heart for my good Osborne. There goes Alice Asbury again. I am dying to tell you something. You know why she hates me, and understand why she treats me so abominably? Well, Asbury gave her the same engagement ring he gave me, and she doesn't know it. Rich, isn't it? Here we are at the cooking-school. I am so glad I can slam a carriage-door without being rude. It is such a relief to one's overcharged feelings."
Tabby, dear, if your head ever spun round and round at some of the confidences I have bestowed upon you, I can sympathize with you, for, as I went into that class, my feelings were so wrenched and twisted that I was as limp as cooked macaroni. You will excuse the simile, but that was one of the articles at cooking-school to-day, and when the teacher took it up on a fork, it did express my state of mind so exquisitely that I cannot forbear to use it.
Sallie Cox! Well, I am amazed. Who would think that that bright, saucy, clever little flirt, who rides on the crest of the wave always, could have such a heart history? And Percival of all men! I wonder what he would say if he knew. I don't know what to think about her marrying Payson Osborne. The last thing she whispered to me as we came out of cooking-school was, "Don't be too sorry for me because I am going to marry him. Believe me, it is the very best thing that could happen to me."
I am very fond of the girl to-night. What a pity it is that everybody does not know her as she really is! No one understands her, and she has flirted so outrageously with most of the men that the girls' friendship for her is very hollow. A few, of whom Alice Asbury is one, dare to show this quite plainly, and of course Sallie doesn't like it. She pretends not to care for women's friendship, but she does. She would love to be friendly with all the girls, but they remember the misery she has made them suffer, and won't have it.
Still, there is no doubt that she is marrying the man most of them want, so that again she triumphs. But, unless I am much mistaken, even as Mrs. Payson Osborne it will take her a long time to recover her place with the women which she has lost by having so many of their sweethearts and brothers in love with her.
Ah, Tabby, what a deal of secret misery there is in the world! Everybody will envy Sallie Cox and think that she is the luckiest girl, and Sallie will smile and pretend—for what other course is left to her, and who can blame women who pretend under such circumstances? Perhaps there are reasons just as good for many other pretenders in this world. Who knows? We would be gentler if we knew more.
There will be other sore hearts besides Sallie's at her wedding. I had heard before that Miss Culpepper was quite desperate over Osborne, but, as she was a girl whom everybody thought a lady, I had no idea that she had gone so far as Sallie says. Osborne probably didn't object to being made love to. A man of his stamp would not be over-refined. Strange, now, Sallie does not love Osborne herself, but she promptly hates every other girl who dares to do it. Aren't girls queer?
Then there are a score of men who will gnash their teeth for Sallie—so many men love these Sallie Coxes.
Frankie Taliaferro, the Kentucky beauty, who is staying with her this winter, tells me that Sallie has had several dreadful scenes with discarded suitors—that one said he would forbid the banns, and another threatened to shoot himself if she really married Osborne.
I wonder how many marriages there really are where both are perfectly free to marry. I mean, no secret entanglements on either side, no other man wanting the bride, no girl bitterly jealous of her. I never heard of one—not among the people I know, at least.
Oh, Tabby, think of all the fusses people keep out of who promptly settle down at the appointed time and become peaceful old maids. How sensible we were, Tabby, you and Missis.
But doesn't it seem to you that people marry from very mixed motives? I used to have an idea—when I was painfully young, of course—that they married because they were so fortunate as to fall in love with each other. Are you quite sure that foolish notion is out of your head too?
THE LONELY CHILDHOOD OF A CLEVER CHILD
"Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood?... To be great is to be misunderstood."
I have been away since early last summer, and consequently never had seen Flossy's new baby until the newness had worn off, and it had arrived at the dignity of a backbone, and had left its wobbly period far behind. I am in mortal terror of a very little baby. It feels so much like a sponge, yet lacks the sponge's recuperative qualities. I am always afraid if I dent it the dents will stay in. You know they don't in a sponge.
As soon as I came home, of course I went to see Flossy's baby, and was very much disconcerted to discover that she had named it for me. I was afraid, I remember, that she would want to name the first girl for me, but she did not. She named her after Rachel. I had an uncomfortable idea, however, that my name had been discussed and vetoed, by either Flossy or Bronson. But this time the baby is named Ruth, and I found that it was all Flossy's doing.
I was irritated without knowing why. I didn't want anybody to know it though, and so I was vexed when Bronson said to me, "I couldn't help it, Ruth." There was no use in pretending not to understand. I could with some men, but not with Bronson. He is too magnificently honest himself, and uplifts me by expecting me to be equally so. Nevertheless I failed him in one particular, for I answered him in my loftiest manner, "I am not at all displeased. It is a great compliment, I am sure."
There is nothing so uncivil at times as to be cuttingly polite. What I said wasn't so at all. But a woman is obliged to defend herself from a man who reads her like an open book.
Flossy does not like children, and poor little Rachel never has had a life of roses. Flossy says children are such a care and require so much attention.
"Rachel was all that I could attend to, and here all winter I have had another one on my hands to keep me at home, and make me lose sleep, and grow old before my time. I don't see why such burdens have to be put upon people. Children are too thick in this world any way."
She fretted on in this strain for some time, until Bronson looked up and said,
"Don't, Flossy. You don't mean what you say. Do tell her the little thing is welcome."
"I do mean what I say," answered Flossy.
Then, as Bronson left the room abruptly, Flossy said,
"And I was determined to name her after you. Bronson didn't want me to. He said you wouldn't thank me for it, but I told him that Rachel Percival was quite delighted with her namesake."
I hid my indignantly smarting eyes in the folds of the baby's dress, as I held her up before my face, and made her laugh at the flowers in my hat. Flossy thought I was not listening to her with sufficient interest; so she got up and crossed the room with that little stumble of hers, which used to be so taking with the men when she was a girl, and took Ruth away from me.
There was a great contrast between the two children. Rachel Herrick is a shy child, with a delicate, refined face, lighted by wonderful gray eyes like Bronson's. I do not understand her. She seems afraid of me, and I confess I am equally afraid of her. Even Rachel Percival does not get on with her very well, although she has bravely tried. The child spends most of her time in the library, devouring all the books she can lay her hands on. Little Ruth is a round, soft, fluffy baby, all dimples and smiles and good-nature, willing to roll or crawl into anybody's lap or affections. A very good baby to exhibit, for strangers delight in her, and pet her just as people always have petted Flossy. Rachel stands mutely watching all such demonstrations, her pale face rigid with some emotion, and her eyes brilliant and hard. She is not a child one would dare take liberties with. No one ever pets her. Flossy complains continually of her to visitors and to Bronson, so that Bronson has gotten into the way of reproving her mechanically whenever his eye rests upon her. Her very presence, always silent, always inwardly critical, seems to irritate her parents. She was not doing a thing, but sitting sedately, with a heavy book on her lap, watching the baby, with that curious expression on her face; but Flossy couldn't let her alone.
"Baby loves her mother, doesn't she? She is not like naughty sister Rachel, who won't do anything but read, and never loves anybody but herself. Sister says bad things to poor sick mamma, and mamma can't love her, can she? But mamma loves her pretty, sweet baby, so she does."
Rachel glanced at me with a hunted look in her eyes which wrung my heart. But, before I could think, she slid down and the big book fell with a crash to the floor. She ran towards the baby with a wicked look on her small face, and the baby leaped and held out its hands, but Rachel clenched her teeth, and slapped the outstretched hand as she rushed past her and out of the room.
Poor little Ruth looked at the red place on her hand a minute, then her lip quivered, and she began to cry pitifully.
I instinctively looked to see Flossy gather her up to comfort her. It is so easy to dry a child's tears with a little love. But she rang for the nurse and fretfully exclaimed,
"Isn't that just like her! I declare I can't see why a child of mine should have such a wicked temper. Here, Simpson, take this young nuisance and stop her crying. Oh, poor little me! Ruth, I'm thankful that you have no children to wear your life out."
I dryly remarked that I too considered it rather a cause for gratitude, and came away.
Poor little Rachel Herrick! Unlovely as her action was, I cannot help thinking that it was unpremeditated; that it was the unexpected result of some strong inward feeling. She looked like one who was justly indignant, and, considering what Flossy had said, I felt that her anger was righteous. That her disposition is unfortunate cannot be denied. She seems already to be an Ishmaelite, for whenever she speaks it is to fling out a remark so biting in its sarcasm, so bitter and satirical, that Flossy is afraid of her, and Bronson reproves her with unnecessary severity, because her offence is that of a grown person, which her childish stature mocks. Other children both fear and hate her. They resent her cleverness. They like to use her wits to organize their plays, but they never include her, for she always wants to lead, feeling, doubtless, that she inherently possesses the qualities of a leader, and chafing, as a heroic soul must, under inferior management. Flossy makes her go out to play regularly with them every day, but it is a pitiful sight, for she feels her unpopularity, and children are cruel to each other with the cruelty of vindictive dulness; so Rachel, after standing about among them forlornly for a while, like a stray robin among a flock of little owls, comes creeping in alone, and sits down in the library with a book. She is the loneliest child I ever knew. If she cared, people would at least be sorry for her; but she seems to love no one, never seeks sympathy if she is hurt, repels all attempts to ease pain, and cures herself with her beloved books. I never saw any one kiss or offer to pet her, but they make a great fuss over the baby, and Rachel watches them with glittering eyes. I thought once that it was jealousy, and, going up to her, laid my hand on her head, but she shook it off as if it had been a viper, and ran out of the room.
I had grown very fond of my namesake, and used to go there when Flossy was away, and sit in the nursery. The nurse told me once that Mrs. Herrick saw so little of the baby that it was afraid, and cried at the sight of her. I reproved her for speaking in that manner of her mistress, but she only tossed her head knowingly, and I dropped the subject. Servants often are aware of more than we give them credit for.
Saturday before Easter I stopped at Flossy's, but she was not at home. I left some flowers for her, and asked to see the baby, but the nurse said she was asleep.
Easter morning I did not go to church, and Rachel Percival came early in the afternoon to see if I were ill. While she was here this note arrived by a messenger:
"DEAR RUTH,—I know you will grieve for me when I tell you that our baby went away from us quite suddenly this morning, while the Easter bells were ringing so joyfully. They rang the knell of a mother's heart, for they rang my baby's spirit into Paradise.
"I feel, through my tears, that it is better so, for she will bind me closer to Heaven when I think that she, in her purity, awaits me there.
"Hoping to see you very soon, I am "Your loving FLOSSY.
"P.S.—Bronson seems to feel the baby's death to a truly astonishing degree. F. H."
I flung the note across to Rachel, and, putting my head down on my two arms, I cried just as hard as I could cry.
Rachel read it, then tore it into twenty bits, and ground her heel into the fragments.
"Why, Rachel Percival! what is the matter?"
"She wasn't even at home. She was at church. She must have been. She told me that Bronson was afraid to have her leave the baby, and wouldn't come himself, but that she didn't think anything was the matter with it, and wouldn't be tied down. Then such a note so soon afterwards! Ruth, what is that woman made of?"
We went together to Flossy's. She came across the room to meet us, supported by Bronson. She stumbled two or three times in the attempt. Tears were running down Bronson's face, and he wiped them away quite humbly, as if he did not mind our seeing them in the least. I could not bear to watch him, so I slipped out of the room and went upstairs.
"In here, 'm," said the nurse; "and Miss Rachel is here too. She won't move that far from the cradle, and she hasn't shed a tear."
Ruth lay peacefully in her little lace crib, covered with violets, and beside her, rigid and white and tearless, stood Rachel. I was almost afraid of the child as I looked at her. She turned her great eyes upon me dumbly, with so exactly Bronson's expression in them that all at once I understood her. I knelt down beside her, and gathering her little tense frame all up in my arms, I began whispering to her. The tears rolled down her cheeks, and soon she was crying hysterically. Bronson came bounding upstairs at the sound, but she seized me more tightly around the neck and held me chokingly. I motioned him back, and succeeded in carrying her away to a quiet place, where I sat down with her in my arms, and made love to her for hours.
I never heard a more pitiful story than she told me, between strangling sobs, of her hungry life. The child has been yearning for affection all the time, but has unconsciously repelled it by her manner. She said nobody on earth loved her except the baby, and now the baby was dead.
"There is no use of your trying to make things different," she said, "especially with mamma. She wouldn't care if I was dead too. But papa could understand, I think, if he would only try to love me. But I love you—oh! I love you so much that it hurts me. Nobody ever came and hugged me up the way you did, in my whole life. You have made things over for me, and I'll love you for it till I die. Why is it that everybody gives mamma and the baby so much love, when they never cared for it, and I care so much and never get a single bit? Nobody understands me, and every one—every one calls me bad. I'm not bad. I love plenty of people who can't love me. I am not bad, I tell you!"
She cried herself nearly sick, and then, exhausted, fell asleep, with her face pressed against mine. Thus Bronson found us. He offered to take her, and I put her into his arms. Then I told him all that she had said, and asked him to hold her until she wakened, and give her some of the love her little heart was hungering for. He couldn't speak when I finished, and I went down, to find Rachel bathing Flossy's head with cologne, and looking worn and tired.
Percival came for Rachel, and one could see that the mere sight of him rested her. She told him all about it, in her wonderfully comprehensive way, and he felt the whole thing, and we were all very quiet and peaceful and sad, as we drove home through the early darkness of that Easter day.
They left me at my door, and I went in alone, with the memory of that grieving household—the lonely father, and the selfish mother, and the unloved child—hallowed and made tender by the presence of the little dead baby, asleep under its weight of violets.
I feel very much alone sometimes; but the Percivals carry their world with them.
A STUDY IN HUMAN GEESE
"I am myself indifferent honest."
I have just made two startling discoveries. One is that I am not honest myself, and the other is that I detest honesty in other people.
To-day I was sitting peacefully in my room, harming nobody, when I saw little Pet Winterbotham drive up in her cart and come running up to the door. I supposed she had come with a message from her sister, and went down, thinking to be detained about ten minutes.
It seems but a few years ago since Pet was in the kindergarten. I was surprised to see that she wore her dresses very long, and that she looked almost grown up.
"My dear Pet," I exclaimed, "what is the matter?"
"Oh, Miss Ruth, I am in such a scrape," she answered me. "I hope you won't think it's queer that I came to you, but the fact is, I've watched you in church, and you always look as if you knew, and would help people if they would ask you to; so I thought I'd try you.
"Ever and ever so long ago, when I was a little bit of a thing, and played with other children, and you and sister Grace went out together, I used to 'choose' you from all the other young ladies, because you wore such lovely hats, and always had on pearl-colored gloves. I suppose it is so long ago that you were a young lady and had beaux that you've forgotten it. But I know you used to have lovers, for I heard Mrs. Herrick and Mrs. Payson Osborne talking about you once, and Mrs. Herrick said you seemed so tranquil and contented that she supposed you never had had any really good offers, or you would be all the time wishing you had taken one. And Mrs. Osborne spoke up in her quick way, and said, 'Don't deceive yourself so comfortably, my dear Flossy. I know positively that Ruth has had several offers that you and I would have jumped at.' And then she turned away and laughed and laughed, although I didn't see anything so very funny in what she said, and neither did Mrs. Herrick.
"I do think Mrs. Osborne is the loveliest person I know. She is my ideal young married woman. She always has a smile and a pretty word for every one, and young men like her better than they do the buds. Why, your face is as red as fire. I hope I haven't said anything unpleasant. Mamma says I blunder horribly, but she always is too busy to tell me how not to blunder.
"Now, I want to know which of these two men you would advise me to marry. I've got to take one, I suppose."
"Marry!" I exclaimed, so explosively that Pet started. "Why, child, how old are you?"
"I'm nineteen," she said, in rather an injured tone, "and I've always made up my mind to marry young, if I got a good enough offer. I hate old maids. Oh, excuse me. I don't mean you, of course. I wouldn't marry a clerk, you understand, just to be marrying. I'm not so silly. I have plenty of common-sense in other things, and I'm going to put some of it into the marriage question. Don't you think I'm sensible?"
"Very," I answered; but I didn't, Tabby. I thought she was a goose.
"Well now," proceeded my young caller, settling her ribbons with a pretty air of importance, and looking at me out of the most innocent eyes in the world, "my sister Grace married Brian Beck because he had such a lot of money. But you know he is dissipated, and at first Grace almost went distracted. Then she made up her mind to let him go his own gait, and she has as good a time as she can on his money. His Irish name Brian is her thorn in the flesh, and he teases her nearly out of her wits about it. We have great fun on the yacht every summer. Brian is awfully good to me, and invites nice men to take with us; still, much as I like Brian as a brother-in-law, I shouldn't care to have a husband like him. Now, I suppose you wonder why on earth I am telling you these things, and why I don't tell one of the girls I go with."
"Oh, no!" I exclaimed in protest.
"Of course. I see you think it wouldn't be safe. Girls just can't help telling, to save their lives. Sometimes they don't intend to, and then it's bad enough. But sometimes they do it just to be mean, and you can't help yourself. I have plenty of confidence in you though, and you don't look as if you'd be easily shocked. You look as though you could tell a good deal if you wanted to. You're an awfully comfortable sort of a person. Now, let me tell you. I have two offers. One is from Clinton Frost, and the other is from Jack Whitehouse. You have seen me with Mr. Frost, haven't you? A dark, fierce, melancholy man, with black eyes and hair, and very distinguished looking.
"I think he has a history. He throws out hints that way. He is gloomy with everybody but me, and Brian will do nothing but joke with him. There is nothing Mr. Frost dislikes as much as to laugh or to see other people laugh. Brian calls him 'Pet's nightmare,' and threatens to give him ink to drink.
"I believe Mr. Frost hates Brian. He says the name of our yacht, Hittie Magin, is unspeakably vulgar. Nothing pleases Brian more than to force Mr. Frost or Grace to tell strangers the name of it. Their mere speaking the words throws Brian into convulsions of laughter. Then, if people comment on it, he tells them that the name is of his wife's selection, in deference to his Irish family. And Grace almost faints with mortification. Mr. Frost says he will give me a yacht twice as good as Brian's. He adores me. He says I am the only thing in life which makes him smile."
I felt that I could sympathize with Mr. Frost on this point.
"Then there's Jack Whitehouse, Norris Whitehouse's nephew. Mr. Norris Whitehouse is a great friend of yours, isn't he? Do you know, I never think of him as an 'eligible,' although he is a bachelor. I should as soon think of a king in that light. He impresses me more than any man I ever knew. Don't you consider him odd? No? I do. He is so clever that you would be afraid of him, if it wasn't for his lovely manners, which make you feel as though what you are saying is just what he has been wanting to know, and he is so glad he has met some one who is able to tell him. Actually he treats me with more respect than some of the young men do. He makes me feel as if I were a woman, and he had a right to expect something good of me. I never said that to anybody before, but I can talk to you and feel that you understand me. I like to feel that people think there is something to me, even if I know that it isn't much. Mrs. Asbury says that Mr. Whitehouse is the courtliest man she knows. You know the story of the Whitehouse money, don't you? Jack told it to me with tears in his eyes, and I don't wonder at it. You know Jack's father and mother died when he was very young. Norris was his father's favorite, and the old gentleman made a most unjust will, leaving only a life interest in the property to Jack's father; then it all went to his favorite younger son, Norris. Now, you know what most men would do under the circumstances. They would acknowledge the injustice of the will, but they would keep the money. This proves to me what an unusual man Mr. Norris Whitehouse is, for he immediately made over to his little nephew Jack one half of the property—just what his father ought to have been able to leave him—and Jack is to come into that when he is twenty-five. Don't you think that was noble? Jack worships him. He says no father could have been more devoted to an only son than his uncle Norris has been to him. He travelled with him, and gave up years of his life to superintending Jack's education.
"Now, whoever marries Jack will really be at the head of that elegant house, for you know it hasn't had a mistress since Jack's mother died, years ago. I should like that, although I do wish more of the expense was in furniture instead of in pictures and tapestries. But that is his uncle's taste.
"Poor Jack talks so beautifully about his young mother, whom he can scarcely remember. He says his uncle has kept her alive to him. He is perfectly lovely with other fellows' mothers, and with mine. He treats them all, he says, as he should like to have had others treat his mother. Of course it is only sentiment with him. If she had lived, he might have given her as much trouble as other boys give theirs. She must have been lovely. Mamma says she was. But I'd just as soon not have any mother-in-law to tell me to wrap up, and wear rubbers if it looked like rain. You know there isn't a bit of sentiment in me. I'm practical. My father says if I had been a boy he would have taken me into business at fifteen. Jack thinks I am all sentiment. He says nobody could have a face like mine and not possess an innate love of the beautiful in art and poetry and all that. I have forgotten just what he said about that part of it. But I know he meant to praise me. I didn't say anything in reply, but I smiled to myself at the idea of Pet Winterbotham being credited with fine sentiment.
"Jack is horribly young—only twenty-two—so he won't have his money for three years, and Mr. Frost is thirty-nine. Jack has curly hair, and when he wears a white tennis suit and puts his cap on the back of his head and holds a cigarette in his hand, he looks as if he had just stepped out of one of the pictures in Life. He looks so 'chappie.' He is a good deal easier to get along with than Mr. Frost, and will have more money some day, although Mr. Frost has enough. Now, which would you take?"
"Why, my dear Pet," I said in an unguarded moment, "which do you love?"
I shrivelled visibly under the look of scorn she cast upon me.
"I don't love either of them. I've had one love affair and I don't care for another until I make sure which man I'm going to marry."
"Can you fall in love to order?" I asked in dismay.
"Not exactly. 'To order!' Why, no. Anybody would think you were having boots made. But it's being with a man, and having him awfully good to you, and admiring everything you say, and having lots of good clothes, and not being in love with any other fellow, that makes you love a man. I'm sure from your manner that you like Jack Whitehouse the best, so I think I'll take him. You are awfully sweet, and not a bit like an old maid. I tell everybody so."
"Am I called an Old Maid?" I asked quickly. I could have bitten my tongue out for it afterwards.
"Oh, yes indeed, by all the younger set. You see you belonged to Grace's set and they are all married. It makes you seem like a back number to us, but you don't look like an old maid. I suppose you can look back ages and ages and remember when you had lovers, can't you? Or have you forgotten? I can't imagine you ever getting love-letters or flowers or any such things. I hope I haven't offended you. I am horribly honest, you know. I say just what I think, and you mustn't mind it. Mamma says I am too truthful to be pleasant. But I like honesty myself, don't you?"
And with that, Tabby, she went away.
How terrible the child is! Now, Pet is one of those persons who go about lacerating people and clothing their ignorance, or their insolence, in the garb of honesty.
"I am honest," say they, "so you must not be offended, but is it true that your grandfather was hanged for being a pirate?" Or, "I believe in being perfectly honest with people. How cross-eyed you are!"
This is why honesty is so disreputable. When you say of a woman, "She is one of those honest, outspoken persons," it means that she will probably hurt your feelings, or insult you in your first interview with her.
I don't like to admit it even to you, Tabby, but I am horribly shaken up. After all these years of talking about myself to you as an Old Maid, and knowing that I am one, to hear myself called such, and to catch a glimpse of the way I appear to the oncoming generation, shakes me to the foundation of my being. Soon I shall be pushed to the wall, as something too worn out to be needed by bright young people. Soon I shall be one of the old people whom I have so dreaded all my life. Dear Tabby-cat! You can remember when Missis received love-letters, can't you? They are not all in the japanned box, are they? Do I seem old to you, kitty? Why, there is actually a tear on your gray fur. Dear me, what a silly Old Maid Missis is!
You see, after all, I have not been honest, even with myself. And, just between you and me, I will say that I abominate honesty in other people. There!
A GAME OF HEARTS
"Man proposes, but Heaven disposes."
Tabby, did you ever hear me speak of Charlie Hardy? No, of course not. Your mother must have been a kitten when I knew Charlie the best. He is a nice boy. Boy! What am I talking about? He is as old as I am. But he is the kind of man who always seems a boy, and everybody who has known him two days calls him Charlie.
Rachel Percival never thought much of him. She said he was weak, and weakness in a man is something Rachel never excuses. She says it is trespassing on one of the special privileges of our sex. Thus she disposed of Charlie Hardy.
"Look at his chin," said Rachel; "could a man be strong with a chin like that?"
"But he is so kind-hearted and easy to get along with," I urged.
"Very likely. He hasn't strength of mind to quarrel. He is unwilling, like most easy-going men, to inflict that kind of pain. But he could be as cruel as the grave in other ways. Look at him. He always is in hot water about something, and never does as people expect him to do."
"But he doesn't do wrong on purpose, and he makes charming excuses and apologies."
"He ought to; he has had enough practice," answered Rachel, with her beautiful smile. "He has what I call a conscience for surface things. He regards life from the wrong point of view, and, as to his always intending to do right—you know the place said to be paved with good intentions. No, no, Ruth. Charlie Hardy is a dangerous man, because he is weak. Through such men as he comes very bitter sorrow in this world."
That conversation, Tabby, took place, if not before you were created, at least in your early infancy—the time when your own weight threw you down if you tried to walk, and when ears and tail were the least of your make-up.
All these years Charlie has never married, but was always with the girls. He dropped with perfect composure from our set to Sallie Cox's—was her slave for two years, though Sallie declares that she never was engaged to him. "What's the use of being engaged to a man that you can keep on hand without?" quoth Sallie. But Charlie bore no malice. "I didn't stand the ghost of a show with a girl like Sallie, when she had such men as Winston Percival and those literary chaps around her. It was great sport to watch her with those men. You know what a little chatterbox she is. By Jove! when that fellow Percival began to talk, Sallie never had a word to say for herself. It must have been awfully hard for her, but she certainly let him do all the talking, and just sat and listened, looking as sweet as a peach. Oh! I never had any chance with Sallie."
Nevertheless, he was usher at her wedding, then dropped peacefully to the next younger set, and now is going with girls of Pet Winterbotham's age.
I thoroughly like the boy, but I can't imagine myself falling in love with him. If I were married to another man—an indiscreet thing for an Old Maid to say, Tabby, but I only use it for illustration—I should not mind Charlie Hardy's dropping in for Sunday dinner every week, if he wanted to. He never bothers. He never is in the way. He is as deft at buttoning a glove as he is amiable at playing cards. You always think of Charlie Hardy first if you are making up a theatre party. He serves equally well as groomsman or pall-bearer—although I do not speak from experience in either instance. He never is cross or sulky. He makes the best of everything, and I think men say that he is "an all-round good fellow."
I depend a great deal upon other men's opinion of a man. I never thoroughly trust a man who is not a favorite with his own sex. I wish men were as generous to us in that respect, for a woman whom other women do not like is just as dangerous. And I never knew simple jealousy—the reason men urge against accepting our verdict—to be universal enough to condemn a woman. There always are a few fair-minded women in every community—just enough to be in the minority—to break continuous jealousy.
Be that as it may, the man I am talking about has kept up his acquaintance with Rachel and Alice Asbury and me in a desultory way, and occasionally he grows confidential. The last time I saw him he said:
"Sometimes I wish I were a woman, Ruth, when I get into so much trouble with the girls. Women never seem to have any worry over love affairs. All they have to do is to lean back and let men wait on them until they see one that suits them. It is like ordering from a menu card for them to select husbands. You run over a list for a girl—oysters, clams, or terrapin—and she takes terrapin. In the other case she runs over her own list—Smith, Jones, or Robinson—and likewise takes the rarest. But she is not at all troubled about it. Marrying is so easy for a girl. It comes natural to her."
Tabby, I did wish that he knew as much of the internal mechanism of the engagements that you and I have participated in, by proxy, as we do—if he would understand, profit by, and speedily forget the knowledge.
But, like the hypocrite I am, I only smiled indulgently at him, as if, for women, marrying was mere reposing on eider-down cushions, with the tiller ropes in their hands, while men did the rowing. I was not going to admit, Tabby, that the most of the girls we know never worked harder in their lives than during that indefinite and mysterious period known as "making up their minds." You see I uphold my own sex at all hazards—to men.