E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE OPINIONS OF A PHILOSOPHER.
With an Etching by W. H. Hyde
[Frontispiece: Etching by W. H. Hyde]
New York Charles Scribner's Sons 1895 Copyright, 1893, 1895, by Charles Scribner's Sons
THE OPINIONS OF A PHILOSOPHER
My wife Josephine declares that I have become a philosopher in my old age, and perhaps she is right. Now that I am forty, and a trifle less elastic in my movements, with patches of gray about my ears which give me a more venerable appearance, I certainly have a tendency to look at the world as through a glass. Yet not altogether darkly be it said. That is, I trust I am no cynic like that fellow Diogenes who set the fashion centuries ago of turning up the nose at everything. I have a natural sunniness of disposition which would, I believe, be proof against the sardonic fumes of contemplation even though I were a real philosopher.
However, just as the mongoose of the bag-man's story was not a real mongoose, neither am I a real philosopher.
You will remember that Diogenes, who was a real philosopher, occupied a tub as a permanent residence. He would roll in hot sand during the heat of summer, and embrace a statue of snow in winter, just to show his superiority to ordinary human conventions and how much wiser he was than the rest of the world. The real philosophers of the present day are not quite so peculiar; but they are apt to be fearfully and wonderfully superior to the weaknesses of humanity. For the most part they are to be found in the peaceful environs of a university or on some mountain top a Sabbath day's journey from the hum of civilization, where they eschew nearly everything which the every-day mortal finds requisite to comfort and convenience, unless it be whiskey and water. I have sometimes fancied that more real philosophers than we are aware of are partial on the sly to whiskey and water. But that is neither here nor there; for, as I have already stated, I am not a real philosopher.
I have altogether too many faults to be one, and should constantly be flying in the face of my own theories. Barring the aforesaid weakness for whiskey and water, it is fair to assume that the average real philosopher lives up to his own lights and by them; whereas I, at least according to Josephine, am liable to be frightfully inconsistent. She has never forgotten my profanity on the occasion when we discovered after dinner that the soot had come down in the drawing-room and was over everything in spite of the fact that the chimney had been swept three weeks before. Now, if there is one thing which I abhor and am perpetually inveighing against as vulgar and futile, it is unbridled language. Josephine must have heard me say fifty times if she has heard me one that the man who fouls his tongue with an oath is a senseless oaf. And yet I am bound to admit that when I discovered what had happened I swore deliberately and roundly like the veriest trooper. In order to appreciate the situation exactly I should add that it has long been a mooted point between Josephine and me whether chimneys require to be swept at all. My darling insists that the sweep shall overhaul the house annually, while I cling, with what she is pleased to call masculine fatuity, to the theory that soot, like sleeping dogs, should be let alone.
Have you ever entered a drawing-room just after a healthy, thorough fall of soot? If so, you will appreciate what is meant by its all-pervasiveness. The remotest articles of furniture are rife with infinitesimal smut, much as they were rife with the remains of the lady in Kipling's story after the jealous orang-outang had done with her. And yet granting that the provocation was dire, a philosopher, a real philosopher, would have acted very differently. A philosopher of the grandest type would have reasoned that what was done was done, and that there was no more use in crying over fallen soot than over spilt milk. He would calmly have adopted prompt measures to ameliorate the situation, and after the servants were fairly at work would have taken his wife apart and pointed out to her, in well-chosen language, that here was only another instance of his superior wisdom. One of a more virulent type, but still a philosopher, might have indulged in mirth—quiet sarcastic mirth. No person of a truly philosophic cast of mind and with a rooted antipathy to damning would have sworn lustily as I did.
I remember taking little Fred, my namesake and eldest son, to skate with me one winter's afternoon on a suburban pond. He did famously for a tyro, but we both wearied at last of his everlasting strife to maintain the perpendicular, and I was conscious of a rush of joy when he became completely absorbed in watching a man who was fishing for pickerel. Have you ever fished for pickerel through a hole in the ice? If so you will recall that it is chilly and rather dispiriting work, especially if the fish are shy. They certainly were shy that afternoon, for the individual in question had angled long and bagged nothing, as I gleaned from the answers to the direct interrogatories put by my urchin during the few minutes I stood paternally by and watched the proceedings.
"Had a bite?"
"How long you been fishing?"
As I glided away light-heartedly on the delicious curves of the outer edge, I reflected that he was evidently a persevering pot-hunter who would not be easily discouraged, and that I could count upon his engrossing the attention of my offspring for a considerable period. Accordingly, I was surprised some five minutes later to observe the fisherman (who wore no skates) shambling across the pond toward the shore. Glancing from him to his late station I perceived a little group of skaters gathered around my son and heir, who was dabbling with a stick in the abandoned hole. They appeared to be diverted by something and one of them, my friend Harry Bolles, who had his handkerchief up to his mouth, made a bee-line to meet me. From his lips I learned what had happened, which was this wise: The horny-handed pot-hunter, having presently pulled a solitary pickerel out upon the ice and freed it from his hook, turned aside to cut another piece of bait; whereupon my hopeful picked up the fish and popped it back into its native element without so much as a syllable of commentary; and thereupon (being act three in the tragedy) he of the horny hand, having realized the situation in its terrible entirety, pulled up his line, shovelled back the particles of ice into the hole and betook himself upon his shambling way without one word. Not a word, mark you. There was a real philosopher, if you like, a thorough-going, square-trotting philosopher. The only alternative was child-murder or silence, and my pot-hunter chose the simplest form of the dilemma. "I thought the fish would like it," said little Fred, when interrogated upon the subject.
And yet, despite my occasional inability to practice what I preach, Josephine is correct in her diagnosis that my cast of mind is becoming more philosophic as the years roll on. The consciousness that I am the author of four children (two strapping sons and two tall daughters), anyone of whom may constitute me a grandfather before I am fifty, renders me conservative and disposed, metaphorically speaking, to draw in my horns a little. I am beginning to go to church again, for instance. You may have taken it for granted that I have been regular in my attendance at the sanctuary. Certainly I have never been a scoffer; but, on the other hand, I must confess that somehow it has come to pass since Josephine and I plighted our troth that our pew has stood empty on the Lord's day oftener than the orthodox consider fitting. And the worst of it is I used to attend service about every other Sabbath before I became a benedict, and Josephine taught a Sunday-school class up to within six months of our wedding ceremony. She, dear girl, has harbored ever since the belief that she continues to go to church almost every Sunday either in the morning or the afternoon, a harmless delusion which for some time I took no pains to dispel, knowing as I did that she meant to go every Sunday. Yet I knew also that pitiless, unemotional statistics would reveal an average attendance on her part of rather less than ten times in the course of each year. I was brute enough finally to call attention to a tally-sheet, covering a period of three calendar months, which I had kept for my private edification, and I was punished by seeing her sweet eyes fill with tears before she proceeded to plead to the indictment.
"You know, Fred, perfectly well that I have to stay at home with the children every other Sunday morning in order to allow Lucille to go to church."
"But how about the other mornings and all the afternoons?" I inquired, with the effrontery of a hardened sinner seizing his opportunity to take a saint to task.
Josephine blushed, partly from guilt and partly from indignation. "It rained torrents last Sunday morning, and Sunday morning fortnight—er—I was sick. I remember that I was all dressed to go one afternoon when old Mr. Philipps called and I didn't like to leave him. Besides, I feel as though I ought to stay at home occasionally on Sunday afternoons in order to teach the children the Scriptures. The Sunday morning before that—er—I went. No, it must have been a fortnight previous, for I recollect now that I had planned to go, when you said that you hated to skate alone and declined to take the entire responsibility of the children on the pond on account of little Fred and the pickerel."
"And I said, too, I remember, that in all probability there wouldn't be black ice again all winter."
"You did, you did," my darling cried, with tragic impetuosity, "and it is cruel of you to remind me of it."
"Moreover, it was a correct prophecy. It snowed that very night and the people who waited until Monday were nowhere."
"Oh, Fred, Fred, I'm a wicked woman. You're the last person in the world who ought to tax me with it, but it is true. I don't go to church as I ought. And yet I do mean to go. But if it isn't one thing which prevents, it's another. Lucille must have every other Sunday morning, and you seem so disappointed if I refuse to go skating or canoeing with you and the children on the fine days that I foolishly yield."
"And you the daughter of a deacon," I continued, unsparingly. Let me state by way of explanation that Josephine's late father was for many years one of the pillars of the religious society to which he belonged.
"I know, I know. It is shameful. I—we are little better than heathens, Fred. Only think of it, four times in three months!" she added, glancing at the tell-tale sheet. "And I brought up to go regularly both morning and afternoon in addition to Sunday-school! I am a heathen; and as for you, I don't know what to call you!" she exclaimed, with a sad, reproachful smile.
So long as Josephine was content to berate herself without including me in her anathemas, I had been ready to acquiesce in what she said, but now that she seemed disposed to drag me into the conversation I felt it incumbent upon me to reply with dignity:
"Will you please explain, my dear, why it is that, though I used to be a regular worshipper before we became man and wife, I have almost entirely ceased to attend church since that time? Who is responsible for the change, I wonder."
There is a point beyond which it is not safe to prod Josephine, and I could see from the expression of her eye that we had reached it on this occasion. She drew herself up and answered haughtily:
"I have heard you make that insinuation several times before, Fred. It is not merely silly, it is disgraceful. I keep you from church? Don't you know," she exclaimed, with a quaver of emotion, "that your refusal to go is a source of genuine grief to me, and that I just hate to go alone? Don't you know that I should like nothing better than to go with you every Sunday, and that I am ready to go to any church you will select?"
"Yes," I answered, doggedly, "I am well aware that you would prefer to have me become anything rather than remain—er—a steadfast worshipper of nature."
Josephine made a little gesture of impatience such as my well-born apotheosis of nature is apt to evoke. For a few moments she looked as though she were going to cry; then, with an almost passionate outburst, she exclaimed:
"You will promise me, Fred, won't you, that when the children are old enough to understand what it means not to go to church you will go too?"
Now, it may be that my response at the time to this pathetic appeal was not altogether satisfactory to my darling; but she has forgotten her fears and her tears to-day in the happy consciousness that as surely as the bells begin to ring on Sunday morning I begin to brush my silk hat with the feverish impatience of an abandoned church-goer. Punctuality, which has always seemed to Josephine a pitiful sort of virtue, ranks in my category of human conduct almost on a par with brotherly love, and I am apt to make myself and her pretty miserable on each returning Sabbath by my endeavors to get the family out of the house and into our pew on time. It is only by bearing strictly in mind what day it is that I am able to keep my lips from speaking guile when little Fred remembers at the last moment that he has forgotten his pocket-handkerchief or Josephine's glove bursts open in the process of being hastily rammed on and I am compelled to wait while she sends upstairs for a fresh pair. You should see how her nostrils swell with pride as we sweep by my old pal, Nicholas Long, and his wife, who are manifestly not going to church. I can discern on Nick's face, as we pass, an expression which is half sardonic, half pitiful. Evidently he has not forgotten my quondam oft-repeated vow that no child of mine should be taught the orthodox fairy tales in unlearning which I had spent some of the best years of my life. And now I am a recreant, and he who aided and abetted me in my asseverations of independence remains faithful. Yes, but Nick, poor fellow, has no children. His grin seems to say, "See what you are missing, poor old patriarch; Dorothy and I are off for a ten-mile tramp in the country."
Yet, despite his apparent jubilation of spirit, I detect a longing expression in Dorothy's eyes and I notice that she steals a second glance over her tailor-made shoulder at little Winona, our youngest, who is an uncommonly pretty child, if I do say it.
"There go a light-hearted, honest couple with the courage of their convictions," I remark to Josephine, tentatively. "Before the sermon has begun they will be on the river and they will come home delightfully tired just in time for dinner."
"Light-hearted? I believe, Fred, that they are both perfectly miserable," she exclaimed, with a sweeping glance of pride at her progeny. "I was thinking just before you spoke how much I pitied that woman."
I can remember as if it were yesterday Nick Long telling me with bubbling ecstasy, shortly after he was engaged, that his lady-love had a clear, analytical mind, almost like a man's. "No nonsense about her," he said. "She sees things just as they are." I rather got the impression at the time that he intended thereby to insinuate gently but plainly that he was a far luckier dog than I who had married a woman with a mind conspicuously feminine. I should like very much to know whether, if Dorothy were to be blessed with children after all, Nick would have to go to church.
Not only have I lost moral courage in the matter of some of my deepest convictions, but I notice also with consternation that my physical bravery is ebbing away as my years increase. I have drawn the line, for example, squarely and tautly on burglars. One night not very long since I was awakened by noise and, after listening, I came to the conclusion that it proceeded from housebreakers. I slipped out of bed stealthily and put my ear to the bolted chamber door in order to confirm my conviction. My movements aroused Josephine, who sat up in bed and asked hoarsely what the matter was. I put my finger on my lips quite irrelevantly, for it was pitch dark.
"Fred, are there burglars in the house?" she gasped.
"What are you doing, Fred? Oh, you mus'n't go down and expose yourself on any account." She was evidently very much agitated. "Promise me that you will not."
Having ascertained that the door was secure I walked across the room and turned on the electric light. Josephine was sitting bolt upright, quivering with excitement. Her eyes followed my every movement, as, having slipped on my trousers and a pair of boots, I began to look around me, tramping sturdily.
"Fred, they'll hear you if you make such a noise," said my wife, in an agonized whisper.
"I fervently trust so," I retorted. "That's why I'm doing it."
As I spoke my eye lit at last on something adapted to my purpose. I had been trying to avoid the destruction of a wash basin, and I seized with grateful eagerness the pair of Indian clubs which offered themselves and, lifting them to the level of my brow, let them fall clamorously on the floor. The welkin rang, so to speak, and I sank with nervous exhaustion into an arm-chair.
The house seemed deathly still and it struck me that Josephine on her part was ominously quiet. When she spoke at last it was to ask:
"Haven't you a pistol?"
"Are you going to let them take everything?"
"It is for them to decide, darling."
"But, Fred——" Josephine did not finish her sentence. The words she uttered were, however, so full of poignant surprise and disappointment that I felt constrained to inquire with a guilty attempt at nonchalance:
"Is there anything you would like to have me do?"
"You are the best judge, of course," she answered, coldly. "Only, do you think it is the usual way?"
"The usual way?" I echoed. Among the few points in Josephine's character which irritate me is her weakness for custom, and it is growing on her. "No, I suppose that the correct social thing would have been to stand at the head of the banisters in my nightgown with a lighted candle and make a target of myself."
"Why did you buy a pistol, then?" inquired my better half.
"So that the children needn't shoot themselves with it after it was locked up and the cartridges carefully hidden," I replied, with levity. We were both so heated that we had practically forgotten that flat burglary was supposed to be going on.
"You didn't use to talk in that way," said Josephine, with slow precision. "I only hope, Fred, for your sake that people won't hear about this."
"They will not, certainly, unless you tell them, Josephine."
"Tell them? I wouldn't mention what has happened for the world," she answered, looking at me with a sort of sorrowful disdain. Thus is it that the ideals which women form concerning us are one by one shattered! I am sure that Josephine would have been inconsolable had I fallen a victim to the bullet of a house-breaker. You will recall that her first impulse was to prevent me from exposing myself for the sake of the solid silver service. She had taken it for granted that I would slip the bolt and go part way down stairs, at least, pistol in hand, and she had wished to caution me against undue rashness. Consequently, it was a rude blow to her sensibilities to find that I was such a craven. She cared no more for our apostle spoons and gold-lined vegetable dishes than I did; it was the principle of the thing which distressed her. Why had I bought a six-shooter shortly after our marriage except to be equipped for just such an emergency? It did certainly seem that I was bound by all the laws of custom to pop at least once over the banisters, even though I took no aim and scurried back into my bedroom immediately after. That would have satisfied her, she subsequently admitted to me; but to drop a pair of Indian clubs on the floor in order to make a clatter could be regarded as little less than pusillanimous, philosophy or no philosophy.
We have talked it over many times since, and I have endeavored to make plain to her that in the process of evolution thinking men have come to the conclusion that the husband and father who chops logic at dead of night with an accomplished burglar on the wrong side of his chamber door is akin to a lunatic. She listens to my arguments attentively, and she has done me the honor to admit that there is more to be said in my behalf than she thought at first; but I remember that the last time we conversed upon the subject she shook her head with the air of a woman who, in spite of everything, is still of the same opinion, and she murmured gently:
"As I told you before, Fred, if you had fired once over the banisters, I would say nothing."
"But I might have been killed or maimed for life as a consequence," I blurted, feelingly. Josephine looked a little grave, as she is apt to do at any suggestion of my sudden taking off, but with a sweet sigh she answered, succinctly:
"There are certain risks in this world that a man has to take."
You may remember that I have four children; my namesake Fred, David, who was christened in honor of his maternal grandfather, Josephine, or Josie as we call her in order not to confound her with her mother, and Winona, the baby of the family. We have lately moved into another house. The old one would not hold us any longer. At least Josephine declared that it would not shortly after the agents of the Board of Health fumigated the establishment with sulphur to kill scarlet-fever germs. She said it would be cheaper to move than to buy new wall-papers and window-shades. When I asked how this could be she waxed a little wroth at what she called my density, and asked if I did not appreciate that we should have to move at any rate in a year or two in order to provide the children with a bedroom apiece. The necessity for this had not occurred to me, I must confess, and I was making bold to inquire why the two boys could not continue to occupy one room and their sisters another as in the past, when Josephine added, in an awful whisper:
"Besides, the house is overrun with cockroaches. Now mind, Fred," she continued, with an imperative frown, "that is a matter which is not to be repeated to anyone."
"Why should I wish to repeat it?" I asked, meekly.
"I never know beforehand what you will repeat and what you will not. I should expect to hear from Jemima Bolles the next time we met that you had confided it to her husband, and positively I don't care to have her know. Then, too," Josephine continued, with the manner of one selecting a few of many grievances to air, "I haven't an inch of unoccupied closet room; and, moreover, you remember, Fred, that the plumber said the last time he was here that by good rights the plumbing ought all to be renewed." My wife dwelt on these concluding words with insinuating emphasis. She knows that I am daft, as she calls it, on two points, closing windows on the eve of a thunder-shower and defective drainage.
"He said that we could manage very well for some time longer without the slightest real risk," I answered, doughtily.
Josephine's lower lip trembled. Presently she burst out, as though she had resolved to throw feline argument and sophistic persuasion to the winds, "I am just tired of this house, Fred, and I should like to move to-morrow. It is pitifully small and disgustingly dirty with dirt that I can't get rid of, and everything about it is old as the hills. It has never been the same place since that fall of soot. If I am obliged to live in it I shall have to, but I am sure that a new, clean house would add ten years to my life."
"Jehosophat!" I added, startled by this appeal into borrowing the latest expletive from the vocabulary of my eldest son, at which Josephine bridled for an instant, thinking that she had detected blasphemy. When it dawned upon her that the phrase in question was only one of those hybrid, meaningless objurgations, the use of which will scarcely justify a lecture, my darling gulped dismally and waited for me to go on.
I am inclined to think that a gradually evolved tendency of mine not to go on when I am expected to was what first prompted my wife to dub me a philosopher. She fancies, dear soul, that she is a loser by this lately developed proclivity to seek refuge in silence on the occasions when she or the children sweep down upon me with some hair-lifting project which craves an immediate decision. But she is in error. It is true there are times when the sweet onslaught of the sons and daughters of my house and their mother has brought the old man to terms on the spot, and wrung from him an immediate permission to do or to spend; but, on the other hand, Josephine, who in spite of her cunning is no philosopher, and her offspring little realize how often their feelings have been saved from laceration by this trick of mine (she calls it a trick) of saying nothing until I have had time for reflection. No man is so wise as his wife and children combined, but it takes him a little while to find it out; and I have discovered that to chew a matter over and over is the surest way to avoid promulgating a stern refusal.
So it was in this instance. Had I uttered the words which rose to my lips, I should have felt obliged to inform Josephine that, her premature taking off to the contrary notwithstanding, to move into another house was out of the question and totally unnecessary. How could I afford to move? Why should we move? The dear old house where we had passed so many joyous years and which Josephine used to say was extraordinarily convenient! I remember that I became successively irate, pathetic, and bumptious in my secret soul. I said to myself stoutly that it was all nonsense, and that by means of a little fresh paint and new coverings for the dining-room chairs, we should be happy where we were for another five years.
Cockroaches? Bah! Was there not insect powder?
The married man who knows in his secret soul that he cannot afford to move and who has made up his mind that nothing on earth shall induce him to, is terribly morose for the first few weeks after his wife has unbosomed herself upon the subject. He peruses with a savage frown the real estate columns of the daily newspapers, while he mutters vicious sentences such as, "I'll be blessed if I will!" or, "Not if I know myself, and I think I do!" He observes moodily every house in process of erection, and scrutinizes those "To Let" with an animosity not quite consistent with his determination to put his foot down for once and crush the whole project in the bud. Why is it that he slyly visits after business hours the outlying section of the city, where the newest and most desirable residences are offered at fashionable prices? Why at odd moments does he make rows of figures on available scraps of paper and on the blotter at his office, and abstractedly compute interest on various sums at four and a half and five per cent.? Why? Because the leaven of his wife's threat that her life will be shortened is working in his bosom and he beholds her in his restless dreams crushed to death beneath a myriad of waterbugs, all for the lack of an inch of closet-room. Why? Because he is haunted perpetually by the countenances of his daughters, on which he reads sorrowfully written that they are wasting away for lack of the bedchamber apiece promised them by their mother. Why? Because, in brief, he is a philosopher, and recognizes that what is to be is to be, and that it is easier to dam up the waters of the Nile with bulrushes (to adopt an elegant and well-seasoned exemplar of impossibility) than to check the progress of maternal pride.
Some four months after Josephine's announcement that she would live ten years longer elsewhere, I returned home one afternoon with what she subsequently stigmatized as a sly expression about the corners of my mouth. I doubt if I did look sly, for I pride myself on my ability to control my features when it is necessary. However that may be, having persuaded Josephine to take a walk, I conducted her to the door of a newly finished house in the fashionable quarter.
"It might be amusing to go in and look it over," I murmured. "I should rather like to see the ramifications of a modern house."
Josephine, albeit a little surprised, was enraptured. She promptly took the lead and I tramped at her side religiously from cellar to attic, while she peeped into all the closets and investigated the laundry and kitchen accommodations and drew my attention to the fact that the furnace and the ice-chest would be amply separated.
"You know, Fred, that in our house they are side by side and we use a scandalous amount of ice as a consequence," she said, hooking her arm in mine lovingly.
"The whole house strikes me as very well arranged," I retorted, in a bluff tone, as much as to say that I saw through her blandishments. I think she appreciated this. Nevertheless, a few minutes later when we were on the dining-room story, she rubbed her head against my shoulder and said, "Just see what a love of a pantry, Fred. Mine is a hole compared to it. Servants in a house like this would never leave one. And do look at this ceiling. It is simple, but divinely clean and appropriate."
"It is well enough," said I, coldly.
After indulging in various other raptures, to which I seemed to turn a deaf ear, and examining everything to her heart's discontent, Josephine moved toward the front door with a sigh. Then it was that I remarked:
"So the house suits you, my dear?"
"It is ideal," she murmured, "simply ideal."
"There are things about it which I don't fancy altogether," said I.
"Oh, Fred, if we only had a house like it, I should be perfectly satisfied."
"Should you? It is yours," I answered.
"Don't be unkind, Fred."
"It is yours," I repeated, a little more explicitly.
Josephine devoured me with inquiring eyes. As she gazed, the expression of my countenance brought the blood to her cheeks and she cried with the plaintiveness of a wounded animal, "What do you mean, dear? It is cruel of you to make sport of me."
"I am not making sport of you, Josephine. The house is yours—ours. I bought it yesterday. Here is the deed, if you mistrust me," I continued, solemnly drawing from my pocket the document in question.
Josephine took it like one dazed. She looked from me to it and back again from it to me, then with a joyous laugh she exclaimed, "Really? It is really true? Oh, Fred, you are an angel!"
"No, my dear," I answered, as she flung her arms about my neck—for she does so still once in a while—"I am merely a philosopher who has learned to recognize that what must be must be."
My wife was too much absorbed in her own mysterious mental processes to take note of or analyze this observation. For a few moments she was lost in a brown study, and gazed about her with a glance that struck me as somewhat critical.
"You are an angel, Fred," she repeated, ruminantly. "You took me in splendidly, didn't you? And to think of your doing it all by yourself!"
She wandered back into the dining-room, and thence to the hall, where she stood peering up the stairway at the skylight. "Yes," she continued presently, in a judicial, contemplative tone, "I think it will do very well on the whole. I am not perfectly sure that the laundress will be satisfied with the arrangement of the laundry, and I don't see exactly, Fred, what you are to do for a dressing-room, when we have more than one visitor. I am out of conceit with the tinting of the drawing-room ceiling, and—and several of the mantelpieces are hideous. But, on the other hand, the dining-room is perfectly lovely, there is no end of closet-room, and the kitchen is a gem. Oh, thank you, Fred, thank you ever so much. I really never expected that we could afford to leave the dear old house. It will almost break my heart to leave it, too, although it is so dirty."
Josephine's guns were spiked, as it were. Having declared that the house was ideal, she was barred from utterly blasting it in the next breath. To tell the truth, I felt as a consequence decidedly perky and inclined to perform the double-shuffle or something of the sort quite out of keeping with the traditional repose of a philosopher. It was so obvious to me that I had escaped weeks, if not months, of misery by the ruse which I had adopted that I was fain to dance with joy. Had I allowed Josephine to pick out a house she would have felt obliged, even though she was thoroughly satisfied with the first she saw, to inspect from top to bottom every other in the market, for fear that she might see something which pleased her better, and I should have been compelled to accompany her. There are a few advantages after all in being of a philosophic turn of mind.
And here is another bit of philosophy for you which I am thoroughly convinced is sound. A woman adroitly handled will permit her husband to choose a new unfurnished house for her without serious demur. But let the lord and master beware who takes it upon himself to do the furnishing also stealthily and of his own accord. I will confess that it did occur to me at first to put through the whole business at one fell swoop—house, wall-papers, dados, chandeliers, carpets, and curtains. I even went so far as to cross the street one day with the intention of asking Poultney Briggs, who makes a business of letting people know what they ought to like in the line of interior decoration, to name his price to complete the job. But my courage failed me at the last minute, for I had a presentiment that Josephine would be disappointed if I did. You see I know her pretty well after all these years.
"I should never have forgiven you, Fred—never!" said my better-half, emphatically, when I told her how near I had come to the crucial act. "I should have hated everything. Besides, no one nowadays thinks anything of Poultney Briggs as a decorator. He is terribly behind the times."
I accepted this reproof and the accompanying verdict with becoming meekness. I remember that when we first went to house-keeping Poultney Briggs was in the van of artistic progress, and that no one was to be mentioned in the same breath with him; yet now, apparently, he was of the sere-and-yellow-leaf order, professionally speaking. And I was old fogy enough not to have been aware of it. Clearly, I was not fit to be entrusted with the selection of even a door-mat, to say nothing of the wall-papers and carpets. It was with a thankful heart over my foresight that I relinquished to Josephine the whole task of furnishing, with the sole reservation that I should have my say about the wine-cellar. My only revenge, a miserable one forsooth, was that she resembled a skeleton three months later; a pale, pitiful bag of bones, though proud and radiant withal. Had it not been for that prediction that her life was to be lengthened, I should have felt anxious. What a marvellous creation a woman is, to be sure! Man and philosopher as I am, my impulse would have been to consign the contents of the garret to the auctioneer or the ash-man, and to retain most of the least-used furniture and upholstery to eke out our new splendor. But Josephine's method was distinctly opposite. She was critical of nearly everything respectable-looking in the old house; on the other hand, there was scarcely anything in the attic or lumber-room, where our useless things were stored, which did not turn out to be a treasure and just the thing for the new establishment. To begin with, there was a love of a set of andirons and a brass fender (to reproduce Josephine's description exactly), which had been discarded at the time we began housekeeping as too old-fashioned and peculiar. Of equal import was a disreputable-looking mahogany desk with brass handles and claw feet which had belonged to my great-grandmother before it was banished to the garret within a month after our wedding ceremony, on the plea that none of the drawers would work. They don't still, for that matter. A cumbersome, stately Dutch clock and a toast-rack of what Josephine styled medieval pattern, were among the other discoveries. The latter was reposing in a soap-box in company with a battered, vulgar nutmeg-grater. But the pieces of resistance, as I called them, on account of the difficulty we had in moving them from behind a pile of old window-blinds, were the portraits of a little gentleman in small-clothes, with his hair in a cue and a seeming cast in one eye, and a stout lady with a high complexion and corkscrew ringlets.
"Oh, Fred, who are they?" cried Josephine, ecstatically, and she began to dust the seedy, frameless canvases with a reverential air. "Where did they come from?"
"They're ancestors of mine, love."
"Ancestors? How lovely, Fred! I didn't know you had any. I mean I didn't know you had any who had their portraits painted."
"On the contrary, Josephine, I told you who they were when we were engaged, and I remember I was rather anxious to hang them in the dining-room, but you said they were a pair of old frumps, and that you wouldn't give them house space. So we compromised on the attic."
"Did I?" said my darling, gravely. "Well it must have been because the dining-room was too small for them. They will look delightfully in our new one, when they are mounted and touched up a bit, and they will set off our Copley of my great-aunt in the turban. What are their names? They must have names."
"They are my great-grandfather Plunkett and his wife, on my father's side. He was a common hangman."
"Now don't be idiotic, Fred."
"He was, my dear. It was you yourself who said it. Don't you remember my calling two of your forbears a precious pair of donkeys because they wouldn't eat any form of shell-fish, and your replying that, though I was in the habit of grandiloquently describing my ancestor who used to execute people as 'the sheriff of the county,' he was only a common hangman?"
"Oh, was that the man? All I said was that if he had been my ancestor instead of yours, you would have called him a hangman. He was sheriff of the county, wasn't he, dear?"
"So I have been taught to believe."
"'My ancestor, the high sheriff,' won't sound badly at all," she said, jauntily.
"Especially if we can tone up the old gentleman's game eye a little."
Josephine's face expressed open admiration. "You are a genius and a duck," she exclaimed; then, after a reflective pause, she murmured, "Very likely he met with an accident just before he was painted."
"Yes, dear. Consequently, if the eye can't be improved by means of the best modern artistic talent, the least we can do is to put a shade over it."
This waggish remark seemed to be lost on Josephine. She wore a far-away look as though her thoughts were following some fancy which had appealed to her. She did not deign to take me into her confidence at the moment, but a fortnight later I happened to come upon her in close confabulation with a very clever, rising, local artist, over this same portrait of my great-grandfather Plunkett.
"Fred," she said, nonchalantly, "Mr. Binkey thinks he can do something to this which will improve it."
"I shouldn't suppose that it was easy to improve upon nature," I remarked, oracularly.
Josephine blushed a little, but she replied, with sturdy decision, "Oh, but he never could have looked like that. His eyes must have been alike, Fred. Mustn't they, Mr. Binkey?"
"I should imagine," said our rising local artist, with a meditative squint at the picture, "that the fault was in the technique rather than in the subject-matter of the portrait."
"Precisely," said Josephine, triumphantly. "Besides, Mr. Binkey says it needs varnishing."
What can one say in the teeth of professional authority? When great-grandfather and great-grandmother Plunkett came back to us at the end of a month, they were newly varnished and in bright, tasteful frames, and no one would ever have detected that the old gentleman's eyes did not resemble each other closely. Since then I have often heard Josephine declare her gratitude that she did not allow any squeamishness to prevent her from giving the children and people generally the correct impression of a man who was eminent in his day and generation. Indeed, I have heard her call the attention of visitors to the strong similarity about the brow and eyes which our second son David bears to his great-grandfather, High Sheriff Plunkett, and I do not question in the least that she believes the cast in the old gentleman's optic never to have existed save in the original portrait-painter's imagination. I must admit that, notwithstanding the changes made by local talent in my ancestor's physiognomy, I am occasionally struck myself with the strong resemblance specified by Josephine; and the longer I live the less doubt I have that she is a far cleverer person than your humble servant.
Shortly before we moved to the seaside this summer, it was evident to me that Josephine had something on her mind which she hesitated to broach to me. I suspect that the dear girl realized that we had had rather a trying winter in our new establishment, and was accordingly a little nervous as to how I would receive a new suggestion, which was aimed directly at my personal comfort. I had indeed found the winter somewhat trying on account of the number of small repairs which had proved to be necessary. Most of the doors would not open except by the application of brute force, and many of the windows rattled, so that carpenters were in possession of the premises a total of one hundred and twenty-eight hours in the course of nine calendar months, and I was compelled to listen in hang-dog silence to Josephine's sibilant commentary, that this was the natural result of buying a ready-made house. Still, I must admit that on the whole she behaved extraordinarily well under these trying circumstances, and said nothing more tart than that, if she ever were so foolish as to move again, she should insist on building a house to suit herself; which struck me as rather a boomerang of a speech, seeing that it implied a lurking doubt on her part as to whether she had been wise in moving at all. I even came near admitting to her in consequence that I was thankful we had moved, and that, surface indications to the contrary notwithstanding, I was extremely happy in my new surroundings, and egregiously proud of her taste and cleverness in the selection of wall-papers and upholstery. I could have truthfully added also that, though a slippery hump had replaced the cosey hollow in my renovated easy-chair, I had found one of the new chairs exactly suited to my sensibilities, and should be secretly pleased if the old one were to softly and suddenly vanish away during our absence at the sea-side, after the manner of the Boojum of ditty. I have really no adequate reason to give why I delayed to make this amiable confession. It was the consciousness, however, that I had it to make which had prompted me to help my darling out of her quandary when I perceived that she seemed afraid to beard the lion in his den.
"It has been very evident to me, Josephine, for the last two days, that you are keeping back something. If your mind is really set on altering the tinting of the drawing-room ceiling, I will consent to have it done while we are out of town."
"It isn't that at all, Fred. I agree with you that we can't afford it this year."
"Is it the extra tub in the laundry, then?"
"Of course it would be very nice if we could have an extra tub. But it isn't that."
"Then there is something?"
"Yes," she murmured. "Oh, Fred, I do hope, now that the doctor has ordered you to take more exercise, you will get one of those pretty, striped, tennis suits."
"Yes, do, father dear," exclaimed my eldest daughter, who happened to enter the room at the moment and overheard her mother's speech. "You would look perfectly lovely in one."
"It would be a satisfaction for once to see you wear something a little joyous," continued my wife, emboldened by the enthusiasm of her offspring.
"You seem to forget, dear, that I am a plain man," I answered, though to tell the truth I was asking myself whether I was not a trifle weary of posing in that sublime capacity. Now that I thought of it, what was the especial virtue of being a plain citizen?
When I came to reflect on the matter further, I realized that my programme for the past fifteen years has been to put on a plain pepper-and-salt suit of modest demeanor in the morning, eat two plain-boiled eggs for breakfast, walk down town in a plain black overcoat to my office in a plain-looking building, where I pursue my calling until it is time to go home and doff my pepper-and-salt of modest demeanor for a plain suit of sables, the funereal dress-clothes of commerce and convention. Even this coal-black tribute to ceremony has discredited me with some, who argue that I am not a plain man because I do not prefer to dine in the same old pepper-and-salt. Verily the only bits of warm color in my wardrobe have been a robin's-egg-blue neck-tie, which I have never dared to wear except once at a wedding, and a pair of pajamas reserved for very occasional jaunts on yachts and sleeping cars. And now that I had the doctor's orders to take more exercise, I had been on the point of selecting an ordinary, plain, pepper-and-salt flannel shirt, and condemning one of my oldest and plainest pairs of pepper-and-salt trousers for the purpose.
And yet it was not always so. I remember that when I was a young fellow and a bachelor I used to be, if not a dandy exactly, very particular regarding my personal appearance, and that I was willing to approach the border line of gaudiness as closely as any of my contemporaries. It took courage, too, then: the youth who wore down town even a garden flower in his button-hole was liable to be suspected of a lack of purpose. One got very little encouragement at the best in any effort to fly in the face of the perpetual black tie and black broadcloth frock-coat of the plain American citizen, and he who chose not to wear the garb of the Republic not merely cut himself off from the possibility of ever becoming President, but ran the risk of being refused employment of any kind. Naturally, therefore, I began after I was married to do pretty much as the rest of my fellow-citizens did, save in the matter of a dress-coat at dinner, which I continued to don daily out of respect to Josephine's feelings. (This has been one of the few points in my behavior upon which she has ever laid particular stress, and I thank her here publicly for her pertinacity. It has saved me from the slough of utter carelessness.) Barring the single blue necktie and the pajamas, I drifted into and have stuck to blacks and browns and the least ostentatious cuts until my own wife and children have felt called upon to proclaim me fusty.
To tell the truth, I had been more or less conscious for some time of my degeneration in this respect, but it is no easy matter to escape from a rut when one is middle-aged. Josephine's stricture concerning the lack of joyousness in my apparel, however, brought me up standing, as the phrase is, and served not merely to spur me to action, but to crystallize a tissue of reflections which had been churning in my brain during a considerable period. One evening a fortnight later I sauntered into the drawing-room, where my wife and four children were congregated round the family lamps, and drew attention to my appearance by a timorous cough.
Josephine was the first to look up. My foot-fall will usually draw from her a welcoming smile, but she happened to be absorbed at the moment in the end of a novel, the beginning of which she was going to read later, so that it was not until I coughed that she raised her eyes from her book. For a moment she stared at me as though she were doubtful whether I was not one of the characters in whose vicissitudes she had been engrossed, then, letting the volume fall to the ground, she exclaimed in a voice of rapture, "Children, look at your father!"
Roused from their respective volumes by the ardor of this exhortation, my two sons and two daughters bent their critical eyes upon the male author of their being. It was a moment of sweet triumph for the old man for which he had made the most careful preparations. It was in vain that their gimlet-like faculties sought to discover flaws in the eminently fashionable costume of white striped serge, the brand-new yellow shoes, the jaunty summer necktie, and the appropriate hat, whereby I was transformed from a plain man to a respectable-looking member of society. The father who can run the gauntlet of his children's censorship may look the cold world in the face without a quaver. Philosophy has taught me this, and it was under the spur of the philosophic spirit that I had sought out the most expensive and most fashionable tailor in town, and told him to build me a summer outfit such as no one could carp at. Expense? He was to spare none. Cut? The latest and most joyous.
The children clapped their hands and there was a lively chorus of approval, and I had the satisfaction of hearing Josie, whose hair is ornamently auburn, and whose face reminds me of her mother at the same age, declare that I looked "perfectly scrumptious," a sentiment which, in spite of its flavor of school-girl slang, seemed to express the critical estimate of the family circle.
"I look like a perfect idiot," I remarked, with becoming modesty, as I surveyed myself in the glass. I did not think so, all the same. Indeed, I was saying to myself that I had had no idea I could look so well. Yet, after all, it is other people who decide whether one looks like an idiot or not.
"On the contrary," said Josephine, having surveyed me once more from head to foot to make sure that I was in nowise peculiar, but just like everybody else (only nicer, as she would say), "you look neat, and cool as a cucumber, and five years younger. Doesn't he, dears?"
"I should think so," said little Fred, who is aiming to be a dandy himself. "Father has cut us all out completely."
"It is a comfort to think that I shall no longer be a disgrace to my family," I remarked with humble mien. "I may add that this is not all. I possess not merely this costume, but I have replenished my wardrobe utterly. When you see my new trousers, my new summer overcoat, my assortment of neckties, my brilliant shoes—both patent leather and strawberry roan—you will no longer be able to state, Josephine, that my clothes lack joyousness."
Later in the evening, after the children had gone to bed, Josephine, who had been up stairs to inspect my purchases, sat down beside me on the sofa, and nestled her head against my shoulder.
"Fred, you are very good," she said. "It must have bothered you terribly to get all those things—you, who are so busy. Everything is lovely, and the latest and prettiest of its kind. You have shown exquisite taste, dear; but I feel as though I had badgered you into it, following as it does on top of the house and everything else."
"No, dearest," I answered, stroking her hair. "I am proud of you—I am grateful to you. A man falls behind the times before he is aware of it. The world changes and paterfamilias ought to change with it out of consideration for his children. You were perfectly right, Josephine, just as you were right about the moving. Our house was too small and I was getting to look fusty and frowsy."
"Not so bad as that, Fred. I never said that you didn't look perfectly clean and respectable. All I meant was that there are such pretty things now, it seems a pity not to wear them. It wasn't the fashion to wear them when you were young. I mean younger than you are now," she added, patting my cheek. "I am glad, Fred, that you are reconciled to the house. I know that I have been a thorn in your flesh for the last eighteen months on account of it. I didn't mean to be irritating about the moving, but I was, and my soul has been wearing sackcloth and ashes ever since because I was so nasty. You see, Fred, in the first place, though I pretended to be pleased at your selecting the house, I was really dreadfully disappointed, for half the fun of a new house is choosing it. Of course a new house chosen by some one else is better than none at all, but a woman hates surprises of that sort, and somehow my teeth were set on edge by the few things about the house that didn't suit me. And then, dear," she continued, caressingly, "I don't think it was very nice of me to meddle with your great-grandfather Plunkett's portrait. It was too much in the line of the people who have their ancestors painted to order. I think of it quite often at night and blush, which shows that I have a guilty conscience on the subject, though I can't help feeling that it has been very much improved whenever I look at it."
"It was a very trifling amelioration," I answered. "And, if I remember rightly, it was I who put you up to it."
"Yes, but you were only in jest, and I was base enough to adopt the idea and act upon it. No, Fred, though I agree that everything has worked out a great deal more satisfactorily than I deserve, and that we are infinitely better off than we have ever been before in point of comfort and general happiness, I look back on the last year and a half as a sort of nightmare. You were content to live along steadily in the dear old house and to toil unselfishly for us all, and I was perpetually prodding you. It has made me feel myself to be a perfect ogre of a woman. And yet it seemed to me to be necessary, Fred."
"It was not merely necessary, Josephine. It was essential. Thank goodness we have got through it so lightly! It is not every man who survives the operation. But, as I have said to you already, I am the one who should be grateful, and I too was the one at fault. Had you waited for me to make the suggestion, we should have been still in that dirty little box of a house, and I should have been wearing the same black wisp of a necktie such as I have worn for the last fifteen years. Kiss me, darling."
She did so, and as she leaned her head lovingly against my breast she looked up and said, tremulously: "It was all on account of the children, Fred. I wish them to have every chance there is." There spoke the fond mother-bird. The children! Are these young giants and giantesses our children? Seemingly but yesterday they were little tots pottering in the sand with spade and shovel, alternately angelic and demoniac, supplying annual testimony to the inability of green apples to oppress a hardy digestion, and free from every inkling of responsibility save a faint, intermittent respect for parental mandate. Now they tower before me in the glory of budding manhood and maidenhood; lovable, yet haughty; with star-like eyes and brows perplexed by all the problems of the universe; God-like in their devotion to principle, though distressingly eager for pocket-money.
"Fred," whispers the dear woman at my side, breaking in upon my cogitation, "what were you like as a boy—er—a young man, I mean?"
Her words are the answering echo to my own secret thought. Like myself she is groping for light and counsel. May not the cleverest man and woman fitly quail before the soul-hunger of eager adolescent youth? And I do not profess to be clever.
"What were you like as a young woman?"
"I was afraid you would make that answer," she murmurs, reproachfully. "Oh, I have forgotten!"
"And if we could remember, Josephine, it would not help us very much. Each generation finds the world a virgin field. Somehow, though, I had fancied that when we had seen them through the scarlet fever and landed them in college, it would be plain sailing. We have to begin all over again, though, and the second half promises to be the most difficult."
"I know it. And think how we worried, or rather tried not to worry, over them when they were little things, and how we fancied there were no problems to compare in difficulty with supplying them with proper food and proper masters. In the last fifteen years they have had everything—chicken-pox, measles, whooping-cough, mumps, and scarlet fever. And they've collected everything—postage-stamps, minerals, butterflies, coins, and cigarette pictures. And they've kept everything—rabbits, goats, bull-terriers, white mice, a pony, and guinea-pigs."
"And owned, and subsequently discarded, to my certain knowledge, a music-box, doll's-house, puppet-show, printing-press, steam-engine, aquarium, and camera."
"Yes, and over and above their school learning they've been taught to swim, ride, dance, use tools, play on the piano, and speak fair to middling French. Yet, as you say, Fred, the most difficult part is to come, just as we fancied that we were through. And the terrible reflection is that we're not so sure now what we ought to do for them as we were when they were younger."
"And it seems sometimes very strange to me, Fred, that though they've eaten out of the same dish, as it were, all their days, and had the same opportunities, they should be so totally unlike one another physically, mentally, and morally. It's impossible to lay down any hard-and-fast rule for them now, as one could do when they were little."
It is indeed. I see them on the threshold of manhood and maidenhood looking up to my wife and me for guidance and counsel, though they pretend to be sufficient to themselves in matters of judgment. A word of encouragement or of disapproval from us may be the turning-point in their destinies, may set the seal on what they are to become. Even as the flowers are drawn by the sun and the willows follow the prevailing wind, their young lives may be turned to good or saved from ill by our loving sympathy or remonstrance in the nick of time. We clinch our fingers in the stress of uncertainty. Good counsel? Yes, a thousand times yes; but who will counsel the counsellors?
How the world has changed since Josephine and I were their age! More particularly that choicest section of it which we were taught to think and speak of as the land of the free and the home of the brave. As I look back now in philosophic mood, simplicity seems to me to have been the keynote of our day. Not merely had the gladsome flannel costume and the Indian pajamas not yet begun to force an issue with the oratorical black broadcloth coat and the up-and-down white nightgown. There were no shingle stains to speak of but those of time and eternity, and he who owned a vehicle of any kind must needs be careful that it was of sombre hue and homely pattern. Among the fixed truths which we imbibed with the maternal milk, and from the prejudice of which I never expect to be wholly free, were these: That though the blatant blast of the Western politician offend the sensitive ear of culture by exaggeration, it is still true that we are the greatest nation under the sun by virtue of our total disregard of everything which other nations have held fast to; that the American woman is a newly created species; that George Washington never told a lie; that though France was on our side in our struggle for Independence, for which we should ever be profoundly grateful, the custom of handing over young people to be married at parental dictate, coupled with certain hoarse suspicions of an unmentionable character, must be an everlasting barrier between us and the Gaul; that, nevertheless, if a man will have his fling, he may do so in Paris once without being held to strict account for it, provided that he comes home and lives a respectable life ever after on this side the water; that Russia's ill-treatment of the serf and general barbaric conditions are to be overlooked on account of the friendliness she displayed toward us in our hour of need, barbarism being on the whole a less crucial blemish than the above-mentioned peculiarities of our other ally; and that everyone should hitch his wagon to a star.
In this last injunction lay, perhaps, the gist of the whole matter. To hitch one's wagon to a star was to be, primarily, a plain person, to go in for truth, patriotism, fineness of soul, long hours of labor, little exercise and no vacations, pies and doughnuts, ugliness of physical surroundings, and squeaky feminine voices. Public opinion justified making all the money one could, provided it was not spent in rendering life ornate or beautiful. So lived our fathers and mothers, our up-right, vigorous, single-minded, ascetic predecessors; and in our day their precepts were still held in reverence. Yet even then there were indications of a change. The newly created species took it into her head to look around her, especially in summer, first by itineraries along the rock-bound coast of her native land, and later by amazon-like pilgrimages abroad. She invented Bar Harbor, and while electrified Europe held its breath perambulated Paris alone and climbed Mont Blanc with a single man. She also made the pertinent discovery that her popper's purse was pudgy with the proceeds of wheat, corn, dry goods, and railway shares. Though she still urged the successive youths who strolled and sat under her Japanese sunshade to hitch their wagons to heavenly bodies, she gave it sweetly, and little by little to be understood that chastity among women and high resolve among men need not preclude more picturesque paraphernalia and a broader field of investigation. She bought French clothes; her brothers took the hint from her, and hied them to Paris and Vienna to pursue their studies; penetrated to Pekin and Constantinople, and hunted the tiger in the jungles of India, while popper's pudgy purse grew more and more plethoric despite the drafts upon it. Purification by pie waned, and the first Queen Anne cottage reared its head.
I wooed and won Josephine in those early, transitory days when the influence of the past was still upon us, though we foresaw and caught glimpses of the new. We were simple souls. I believe that Josephine's wagon was hitched to a star; else I could not have loved her. And she believed the same of mine. She wandered in the panoply of her maiden independence to far-off rookeries attended by me only (or some other swain only). Though we were fain to discuss De Musset and Herbert Spencer, Darwin and Dobson, George Eliot and Philip Gilbert Hamerton—strange names to the elder generation—our scheme of life was still essentially grave and plain for all Josephine's Japanese sunshade and tendency to make the most of her willowy figure. Little did we dream of the later development which, like a huge wave, was to sweep over the land of the free and the home of the brave, overwhelming its native simplicity with the virtues, tastes, and vices of the other nations against which our forefathers barred the door. Palaces in all but the name stand where the buffalo was wont to disport himself, and where the American eagle in human form once flapped his wings and screamed most viciously in contempt of the effete civilization of the older world. Sons and daughters of the pioneers who bolted their dinners on the stroke of twelve find seven too early for elegant convenience. Among the reddest and palest of hot-house roses, which deck their tables, glisten glass of Venetian pattern and china from the bankrupt stock of kings. According to their intellectualities their talk is of labor and capital, of working-girls' clubs and model tenement-houses, of Buddha and Zola, of foreign titles, and transplanted fox-hunting. To-day a hundred thousand dollars is barely a competency, and a building less than a dozen stories high dwarfs the highway of trade. The vestibule limited, the ocean grey-hound, the Atlantic cable, and the voice-bearing telephone have made all nations kin, and bid fair to amalgamate society. Even the newly created species condescends to swap her birthright for a coronet.
All this has come to pass while Josephine and I have been plodding along the route of all flesh, trying not to forget our early aspirations. We have changed our dinner-hour with the rest of the world; we have learned to talk more or less unintelligently about the sweating system and Buddhism; we have bowed our necks to the yoke of the electric wire. Now that Josephine has spurred me on to it, I have even bought a modern house, and replenished my wardrobe so as to keep pace with thought and custom. But, nevertheless, sitting here in my renovated easy-chair, with my feet stretched toward the brass andirons which were the pride of one of my great-grandmothers, listening to the ticking of the old-fashioned clock which belonged to another of them, and conscious that the eyes of my most distinguished ancestor are looking down at me from the wall, I feel bewildered, as it were, by this latter-day metamorphosis, bristling with new and formidable problems. Whither is civilization tending? What is one to think of it all? And by the shades of my forefathers, purified by pie, how shall we best help our sons and daughters to hitch their wagons to stars? That is what is worrying Josephine and me.
We have just faced our first serious problem.
Said my wife to me one day not long ago, handing me the newspaper as she spoke, "Look at this, my dear. Little Fred has been selected to play on the University foot-ball eleven."
By way of contradistinction to me, who am rather short and slight, my namesake and eldest son is still habitually spoken of in the family as Little Fred, notwithstanding that he is a head taller than I, and a strongly built, muscular youth into the bargain. He is in college—a sophomore—and I do not hesitate to declare that when he left school he was about as clean cut a young fellow, both mentally and physically, as anyone would wish to see. I have always encouraged him to take a sensible amount of exercise and have been glad that he seemed fond of the athletic sports in vogue among the growing lads of the country and did not need to be prodded, like his brother David for instance, to keep out of doors. I have been aware that he has been a prominent member of an amateur base-ball nine and foot-ball eleven, and I have been proud to follow in a confused sort of fashion, for the technical terms have changed sadly since I was a boy, the defeats and victories, principally the latter, I think, of those illustrious organizations. Although I was never his equal physically, I look back with considerable pride to my own foot-ball days, and my children have heard me repeatedly describe the famous dash which I once made with the ball from one end of the field to the other, with Tom Ruggs, the butcher's boy, at my heels, and how he never caught me until after I had sent it flying over the goal line, and we had won the game. That was a long time ago now, and we played a very different game, as I have since discovered. I hear a great deal said nowadays about the lack of attention which the older generation gave to manly sports. We did not make much fuss about them, I agree, and consequently some boys may have been allowed to grow to manhood without proper physical training; but it seems to me that most of us were playing something in the fresh air the greater portion of the time. However, I have always been a great believer in manly sports and I wish to continue to be.
When my boy entered college I remember telling him kindly but explicitly that it was a costly matter to send him there, and that I should expect him to make the most of the opportunities for improvement which were offered him. I knew that he was not especially clever at his books like his brother David, yet at the same time I had set him down as a sensible, wide-awake fellow with at least an average amount of brains and with plenty of tact and common sense. It was my hope that he would devote himself to political economy and mathematics, in which case I should try and find an opening for him after graduation with the firm of Leggatt & Paine, our leading bankers. I expected, of course, that he would continue to take a suitable amount of exercise, to keep himself in good trim; row on the river and not altogether renounce base-ball. Indeed, although I was aware that collegiate sports were a much more serious tax on a student's time than in my day, I should not have seriously demurred had he been selected to row on the University crew or play on the University base-ball nine. I should have greatly preferred to have him steer clear of both; still, I try to remember that I was once his age myself, and I am given to understand that the rivalry between the several colleges in these matters is more intense than ever. There was a time when nothing seemed to me of such vital interest as whether Harvard or Yale won the boat race. The Darwinian theory paled in comparative importance beside it. Indeed, I still take more interest in it than it deserves, perhaps. Nevertheless, I took pains to impress upon Fred that his studies were to be his first consideration.
We did not play foot-ball in college when I was there, which was the reason, perhaps, why I assumed that it was a boy's game, to be shuffled off with other purely youthful sports when one became a dignified student. I had heard here and there the statement that it was a rough game, which did not impress me very much, recalling as I did my own hacked shins. It was not until I read my friend Horace Plympton's letter to the Evening Times, that my attention was particularly called to the matter. Horace seemed to have lashed himself into a perfect fury on the subject. He stigmatized the modern game as it was played by University students as a barbaric spectacle, dangerous to limb, if not to life. Horace has always been more or less of a pepper-pot, but he is not exactly a croaker, and he served in the war with distinction. Hence his diatribe made me frown, even though it rather amused me. It was written in the autumn of the year before Fred went to Cambridge, and I read it aloud to the family circle as being of interest to a sub-freshman.
"What perfect nonsense!" exclaimed that profound young gentleman, when I had finished. "The man who wrote that letter is a flub-dub, father."
Though not aware of the precise meaning of this epithet, I realized that it was a severe arraignment. I felt, too, that my manner of reading the communication had given license to my boy's tongue. I answered, therefore, with some unction:
"The writer, Horace Plympton, is a brave and sensible man. I know him very well."
"I guess he never kicked foot-ball."
"In his day the young men who were fortunate enough to be sent to college were better occupied. Foot-ball? It is a game for high-schools, not universities."
"It is the greatest game of the day, father," said my sub-freshman, with the haughty consciousness of superior knowledge which the waning, though reigning, generation has so often to bow to.
Of course that settled the question. I believe that I made a futile remark to the effect that the president ought to put a stop to it, or something of the sort, but I knew enough to know that I had been convicted of error. I saw Fred glance at his sisters, and all three at their mother, who looked anxious in her desire not to seem to take sides against me, though manifestly sympathizing with them. I said to myself that if foot-ball was the greatest game of the day, I was not going to put my foot down and prevent my boys from playing it merely because I was old fogy enough not to understand that it was the greatest game of the day, and Horace Plympton had written a letter to the Evening Times. Accordingly, when the time came for Fred to go to college I merely cautioned him generally against wasting his time, and uttered no fulminations against foot-ball in particular.
"On the University foot-ball eleven?" I echoed, taking the newspaper from my wife, and as I read I felt a little lump of emotional pride rise in my throat. There it was, sure enough, in black and white, though I could not help wondering why the fact was of importance enough to be chronicled in the daily press along with the telegraphic news, and the deaths and marriages. It was evidently a matter of considerable moment, though I could not quite see why.
"He will be perfectly delighted," said Josephine. "He has been extremely doubtful whether he would be chosen. Oh, Fred," she exclaimed, in a tone of solicitude, "do you really think it's safe?"
How exactly that was like a woman. Here was my wife, who had secretly aided and abetted her son in his design, and been the recipient of his hopes and fears on the subject, turning to me, who had dared to utter a feeble protest or two only to be scoffed at, and summarily sat upon, asking if the game was really safe.
"There are certain risks in this world that a man has to take," I answered, borrowing the sentiment which she had uttered on the occasion of our affair with the burglars.
Josephine did not appreciate my irony. "Why, oh why, did you give your consent to his playing foot-ball?" she asked, tragically. "I understand that it is a terribly rough and dangerous game."
"I give my consent? This is monstrous, Josephine, monstrous. I did not wish to be a killjoy and a marplot, or I would have forbidden Fred to touch a foot-ball after he entered college. Had you, my dear, given me the least bit of support, I should have nipped the whole business in the bud. Yet now you seek to throw the blame on me."
The suggestion of the dire parental sternness of which I had evidently just missed being guilty caused her thoughts to fly off on an opposite tack. "The poor darling, his heart was so set on being chosen," she said. "I am sure, Fred, it would have been a terrible blow to him if he had not succeeded."
"I dare say that it was his chief motive in going to college," I interjected, a little indignantly.
"I really think it was," she murmured, with sweet maternal sympathy. "I shall live though in constant dread until it is over and done with."
"What is over and done with?"
"The Harvard-Yale foot-ball match. It's on account of that he's been so anxious to belong. And, Fred, he said to me the other day that if he was chosen, he hoped that we would go to Springfield to see the game. It is terrible to think that I might see him killed before my eyes, but he is set on our going."
"It is all a piece of infernal nonsense," I remarked, with majestic dignity; nevertheless, the idea did not strike me as a bad one. To tell the truth, I was beginning to be curious to see this game, which, according to the views of my eldest son, was the greatest game of the day, and to those of Horace Plympton a barbaric spectacle.
And now befell me a curious experience; at least it seemed to me such. I found that I, who, though considered an industrious and painstaking lawyer, have never awakened any especial interest in the community, had acquired lustre and importance by virtue of the circumstance that I had a son on the University foot-ball eleven. College graduates of various ages, who had hitherto classed me with the general run of their acquaintance, grew suddenly cordial and congratulatory in their manner, and I had the satisfaction of reading in the public prints an item to the effect that Frederick ——, the father of the well-known half-back of the Harvard University foot-ball eleven, had recently visited New York for a few days. Altogether I had become, for the first time in my existence, an object of consequence to my fellow-citizens, and almost to the world at large.
As for the hero himself, he bore his importance modestly and meekly, though he evidently considered that he had rescued the family name from obscurity and set it gloriously in the public eye by dint of his renown. He was in strict training, and fiercely conscientious as to what he ate and drank, and as to his hours of sleep. Little was heard in the house when he was at home but conjecture and estimate as to who was likely to win in the impending contest. Had I been properly attentive, I might have learned from his lips not merely the names and nicknames of the members of the respective teams and the positions on the field they were to fill, but their weights in fighting trim, their fine points both as foot-ball kickers and as men, and not improbably their love affairs. When now and then, as occasionally happened, I betrayed by an unfortunate question or by unappreciative silence my lack of familiarity with this or that celebrity, the look of wondering pity with which my boy, and indeed every member of the family, regarded me made me feel myself to be a veritable ignoramus. Josephine and her girls knew the whole business from beginning to end, and I must confess that I secretly drank in more than I pretended.
A fortnight before the match was to come off Sam Bangs, who, as some of you will remember, is a second cousin of mine and rather a pal of Josephine's, appeared at the house one evening and laid before me, in his engaging, plausible fashion, a project which he and his wife and my wife had cooked up between them. He and Josephine assured me, in the first place, that I wouldn't have the least bother in the matter, and that everything would be perfectly plain running for the reason that Sam was intimate with the manager of the railroad, and that little Fred had secured the requisite number of tickets for the game. Then he proceeded to inform me that they had conceived the idea of going to see the game at Springfield in a private special car; that the manager had promised to let him have one, and that it would be much more jolly to go with a few friends like that and have a luncheon comfortably served by a caterer than to be lumped in the common cars with Tom, Dick, and Harry, who were liable to be noisy students, or still more noisy prize-fighters, and starve; that there were several people crazy to go whom it would be very pleasant to have, notably Mrs. Guy Sloane and Mrs. Walter Warner (nee Polly Flinders), and that the expense would be comparatively trifling.
"I think it would be particularly nice, Fred, on Josie's account," added my wife. "I should ask two or three of her girls, and some boys to match. She is inclined to be shy, and this would be just the occasion to help her to feel at her ease with young men. Then I thought you would like to have a chat with Polly Warner; you so rarely see her now, and you and she used to get on so well together; and you know Mrs. Guy Sloane always stimulates you. I think you would have a very good time; and, as Sam says, it's a Dutch treat, so the expense would fall on everybody alike."
Seeing that Josephine's heart was set on going in just that way, I did not attempt to interpose objections. I took the liberty, however, of remarking that, though we as the parents of one of the players had a reason for going, I could not understand why a cultivated woman like Mrs. Guy Sloane was willing, crazy indeed according to what they had said, to take so much trouble to see a pack of college youths knock each other about. In answer to this, Sam declared that every man, woman, and child in the city who could possibly get away was going to Springfield; that trains were to be run every fifteen minutes, and that no less than twenty special private cars in addition to ours had been chartered for the occasion. Again I hung my diminished head before this broadside of superior information. Sam was perfectly right. I have rarely seen such a crowd in a small compass as was collected at the railway station before we started. How we ever reached Sam, who made himself visible to me at last across an ocean of heads by lifting himself on the shoulders of obliging friends, and found our special car seems mysterious to me as I look back upon it. It really appeared as though every man, woman, and child in the city were going, from the highest officials of the State and our leading citizens in various fields to the veriest street Arab who had managed to beg, borrow, or earn the requisite fare. Everybody, or nearly everybody, carried a flag, and Josephine seemed to think that I, as a Harvard man and the father of the half-back of the team, was lacking in enthusiasm because I had not got possession of one.
"It will be time enough for enthusiasm when we win the match," I remarked, sententiously, though what with the general crowd and the files of students bubbling over with Rah-rah-rahs as they tore along the platform to find seats in the several trains, I was beginning to feel very tremulous about the gills, so to speak.
I doubt if Josephine heard my answer. Her attention had suddenly been absorbed by the sight of Mrs. Willoughby Walton, on the way to her special car, in all her glory, which consisted of a new seal-brown costume with tiger-skin trimmings and a retinue comprising Gillespie Gore, Dr. Henry Meredith, the specialist on nervous diseases (who, like everybody else, had evidently taken a day off), and half a dozen youths who looked young enough to be freshmen. She was frantically waving a crimson flag, which she shook at the windows of our car as she passed with the spirit of a belle of nineteen.
"That woman is simply wonderful," murmured my darling. "She is fifty-five if she is a day, but she will not give up."
"Rah! rah! rah! Harvard!" I ejaculated hysterically. I felt that I was getting rattled, as my famous son calls it.
"Look here, Cousin Fred," said Sam Bangs at my shoulder. "Seen the morning paper? Here he is cabinet size and a full family history annexed. It's something which his great-grandchildren will be proud of. Where the dickens, by the way, is Mrs. Sloane? I've been looking for her everywhere in the station. She's coming, because she telephoned me last night to inquire if I could squeeze one more into our car. We'll be off in another five minutes."
"What do you mean, Sam? What is it?" asked Josephine, as she seized and held to the light the newspaper which he was extending.
I looked over her shoulder and broke into a cold perspiration at beholding an execrable three-quarters length cut of my darling son superscribed by his name in holograph.
"It's an indecent outrage," I hissed.
"It isn't like him in the least. No one would ever know who it was. It makes him look like a prize-fighter," cried Josephine.
"They've no right to print his picture at all; it'll do the boy a serious injury by leading him to believe there is nothing else in the world worth thinking about but foot-ball," I asserted. "What right have they to do it?"
"Pooh, Cousin Fred," said Sam. "It's nothing but ordinary newspaper enterprise. They print everybody's portrait nowadays, from the common murderer up. Your ox is gored this time, that's all. Cheer up, old man—Rah! rah! rah! Harvard!"
"I never supposed they would make him look like that, or I wouldn't have let Fred have the photograph to give them," said Josephine, forlornly.
"Do you mean that you gave it to them?" I asked, in horror.
"It was to Fred I gave it. He said that his picture was to appear with the others, and that he must have a photograph. But they have made him much the worst looking of them all. It's a libel on the dear boy."
I was saved from intemperate language by the sudden advent of Mrs. Guy Sloane, in whose custody appeared the Rev. Bradley Mason, our spiritual adviser. They were both breathless with haste, occasioned, as we shortly learned, by the necessity imposed on our beloved pastor of marrying a couple before he could escape from his fold.
"If I had ever dreamed that you would come, Mr. Mason, I should have sent you an invitation myself," said Josephine, whose delight, as I perceived, was tinged with jealousy.
"I planned it as a delirious surprise," interjected Mrs. Sloane. "I knew you would be only too glad to have him if there was room. I dare say you thought I was a little mysterious over the telephone last night, Mr. Bangs," she added with a blithe twist of her neck in Sam's direction.
"I am a thorough believer in the efficacy of manly sports on character," I heard Mr. Mason remark to my wife. "They cannot be too much encouraged by us all."
"It is very kind of you to say so," said Josephine, with a radiance which told me plainly that her qualms concerning the whole proceeding as an educational factor were at least temporarily dispelled. "I shall tell little Fred that you were with us. It will gratify him very much to know that you saw the game."
"It must be a proud day for you as a father and a college man," he continued, with a kindly smile in my direction.
"Really, sir, I am not altogether certain yet," I answered, a trifle doggedly. "My judgment is in a state of suspension."
He obviously mistook my philosophic utterance for fears concerning the outcome of the game, inasmuch as he presently sought to soothe me by a speech to the effect that a game well lost was a victory in ethics, which prompted me to remark, under my breath:
"Provided it doesn't cost a leg or a rib or two."
"Cost nothing," cried the irrepressible Sam, whose ear caught what I had meant for an aside. "He'll come out of it all right, Cousin Fred. We're bound to win too. Rah! rah! rah! Harv-a-rd!" Thereupon the engine gave a puff and a couple of snorts, and we were off.
We were early on the ground. That is to say, only a few hundred people were in their places when we arrived. The seating accommodations were for thousands. Have you ever seen an intercollegiate foot-ball field? If not, picture to yourself a long, level, rectangular arena about a hundred yards long and fifty yards wide marked out with white lines at certain regular intervals. At either end stands a crossbar supported by two posts. These are the respective goals. All along the field on either side runs a tall tier of seats similar to those at a hippodrome, and there are tiers of seats also opposite the ends; but the best seats are likely to be those on either side in proximity to the middle of the field.