Part 2 out of 3
How well I remember that afternoon, and the very shape of
the lazy clouds, and the smell of spring things, and myself
going away abashed and sitting on the shaky bench in my domain
and wondering for the hundredth time what it was that made
the difference between my bit and the bit of orchard in front of me.
The fruit trees, far enough away from the wall to be beyond
the reach of its cold shade, were tossing their flower-laden heads
in the sunshine in a carelessly well-satisfied fashion that filled
my heart with envy. There was a rise in the field behind them,
and at the foot of its protecting slope they luxuriated
in the insolent glory of their white and pink perfection.
It was May, and my heart bled at the thought of the tulips
I had put in in November, and that I had never seen since.
The whole of the rest of the garden was on fire with tulips;
behind me, on the other side of the wall, were rows and rows
of them,--<95> cups of translucent loveliness, a jewelled
ring flung right round the lawn. But what was there not on
the other side of that wall? Things came up there and grew
and flowered exactly as my gardening books said they should do;
and in front of me, in the gay orchard, things that nobody ever
troubled about or cultivated or noticed throve joyously beneath
the trees,--daffodils thrusting their spears through the grass,
crocuses peeping out inquiringly, snowdrops uncovering their
small cold faces when the first shivering spring days came.
Only my piece that I so loved was perpetually ugly and empty.
And I sat in it thinking of these things on that radiant day,
and wept aloud.
Then an apprentice came by, a youth who had often seen me
busily digging, and noticing the unusual tears, and struck perhaps
by the difference between my garden and the profusion of splendour
all around, paused with his barrow on the path in front of me,
and remarked that nobody could expect to get blood out of a stone.
The apparent irrelevance of this statement made me weep still louder,
the bitter tears of insulted sorrow; but he stuck to his point,
and harangued me from the path, explaining the connection <96>
between north walls and tulips and blood and stones till my tears all
dried up again and I listened attentively, for the conclusion to be
drawn from his remarks was plainly that I had been shamefully taken
in by the head gardener, who was an unprincipled person thenceforward
to be for ever mistrusted and shunned. Standing on the path from
which the kindly apprentice had expounded his proverb, this scene
rose before me as clearly as though it had taken place that very day;
but how different everything looked, and how it had shrunk!
Was this the wide orchard that had seemed to stretch away,
it and the sloping field beyond, up to the gates of heaven?
I believe nearly every child who is much alone goes through a certain
time of hourly expecting the Day of Judgment, and I had made up
my mind that on that Day the heavenly host would enter the world
by that very field, coming down the slope in shining ranks,
treading the daffodils under foot, filling the orchard with their songs
of exultation, joyously seeking out the sheep from among the goats.
Of course I was a sheep, and my governess and the head gardener goats,
so that the results could not fail to be in every way satisfactory.
But looking up at the slope <97> and remembering my visions,
I laughed at the smallness of the field I had supposed would
hold all heaven.
Here again the cousins had been at work. The site of my
garden was occupied by a rockery, and the orchard grass with all
its treasures had been dug up, and the spaces between the trees
planted with currant bushes and celery in admirable rows;
so that no future little cousins will be able to dream of celestial
hosts coming towards them across the fields of daffodils,
and will perhaps be the better for being free from visions
of the kind, for as I grew older, uncomfortable doubts laid
hold of my heart with cold fingers, dim uncertainties as to
the exact ultimate position of the gardener and the governess,
anxious questionings as to how it would be if it were they
who turned out after all to be sheep, and I who--? For that we
all three might be gathered into the same fold at the last never,
in those days, struck me as possible, and if it had I should
not have liked it.
"Now what sort of person can that be," I asked myself,
shaking my head, as I contemplated the changes before me,
"who could put <98> a rockery among vegetables and currant bushes?
A rockery, of all things in the gardening world,
needs consummate tact in its treatment. It is easier to make
mistakes in forming a rockery than in any other garden scheme.
Either it is a great success, or it is great failure; either it
is very charming, or it is very absurd. There is no state
between the sublime and the ridiculous possible in a rockery."
I stood shaking my head disapprovingly at the rockery before me,
lost in these reflections, when a sudden quick pattering of feet
coming along in a great hurry made me turn round with a start,
just in time to receive the shock of a body tumbling out
of the mist and knocking violently against me.
It was a little girl of about twelve years old.
"Hullo!" said the little girl in excellent English;
and then we stared at each other in astonishment.
"I thought you were Miss Robinson," said the little girl,
offering no apology for having nearly knocked me down.
"Who are you?"
"Miss Robinson? Miss Robinson?" I repeated, my eyes fixed on
the little girl's face, and a host of memories stirring within me.
"Why, didn't she <99> marry a missionary, and go out to some place
where they ate him?"
The little girl stared harder. "Ate him? Marry? What, has she been
married all this time to somebody who's been eaten and never let on?
Oh, I say, what a game!" And she threw back her head and laughed till
the garden rang again.
"O hush, you dreadful little girl!" I implored, catching her
by the arm, and terrified beyond measure by the loudness of her mirth.
"Don't make that horrid noise--we are certain to be caught if you
don't stop-- --"
The little girl broke off a shriek of laughter in the middle and shut
her mouth with a snap. Her eyes, round and black and shiny like boot buttons,
came still further out of her head. "Caught?" she said eagerly.
"What, are you afraid of being caught too? Well, this is a game!"
And with her hands plunged deep in the pockets of her coat she capered
in front of me in the excess of her enjoyment, reminding me of a very fat
black lamb frisking round the dazed and passive sheep its mother.
It was clear that the time had come for me to get down to
the gate at the end of the garden as <100> quickly as possible,
and I began to move away in that direction. The little girl at once
stopped capering and planted herself squarely in front of me.
"Who are you?" she said, examining me from my hat to my boots
with the keenest interest.
I considered this ungarnished manner of asking questions impertinent,
and, trying to look lofty, made an attempt to pass at the side.
The little girl, with a quick, cork-like movement,
was there before me.
"Who are you?" she repeated, her expression friendly but firm.
" Oh, I--I'm a pilgrim," I said in desperation.
"A pilgrim!" echoed the little girl. She seemed struck,
and while she was struck I slipped past her and began
to walk quickly towards the door in the wall. "A pilgrim!"
said the little girl, again, keeping close beside me,
and looking me up and down attentively. "I don't like pilgrims.
Aren't they people who are always walking about, and have things
the matter with their feet? Have you got anything the matter
with your feet?"
"Certainly not," I replied indignantly, walking still faster. <101>
"And they never wash, Miss Robinson says. You don't either, do you?"
"Not wash? Oh, I'm afraid you are a very badly brought-up
little girl--oh, leave me alone--I must run--"
"So must I," said the little girl, cheerfully, "for Miss Robinson
must be close behind us. She nearly had me just before I found you."
And she started running by my side.
The thought of Miss Robinson close behind us gave wings
to my feet, and, casting my dignity, of which, indeed, there was
but little left, to the winds, I fairly flew down the path.
The little girl was not to be outrun, and though she panted
and turned weird colours, kept by my side and even talked.
Oh, I was tired, tired in body and mind, tired by the different shocks
I had received, tired by the journey, tired by the want of food;
and here I was being forced to run because this very naughty
little girl chose to hide instead of going in to her lessons.
"I say--this is jolly--" she jerked out.
"But why need we run to the same place?" I breathlessly asked,
in the vain hope of getting rid of her. <102>
"Oh, yes--that's just--the fun. We'd get on--together--you and I--"
"No, no," said I, decided on this point, bewildered though I was.
"I can't stand washing--either--it's awful--in winter--
and makes one have--chaps."
"But I don't mind it in the least," I protested faintly,
not having any energy left.
"Oh, I say!" said the little girl, looking at my face,
and making the sound known as a guffaw. The familiarity
of this little girl was wholly revolting.
We had got safely through the door, round the corner past
the radishes, and were in the shrubbery. I knew from experience
how easy it was to hide in the tangle of little paths, and stopped
a moment to look round and listen. The little girl opened her
mouth to speak. With great presence of mind I instantly put my
muff in front of it and held it there tight, while I listened.
Dead silence, except for the laboured breathing and struggles
of the little girl.
"I don't hear a sound," I whispered, letting her go again.
"Now what did you want to say?" I added, eyeing her severely.
"I wanted to say," she panted, "that it's no <103> good pretending you
wash with a nose like that."
"A nose like that! A nose like what?" I exclaimed,
greatly offended; and though I put up my hand and very tenderly
and carefully felt it, I could find no difference in it.
"I am afraid poor Miss Robinson must have a wretched life,"
I said, in tones of deep disgust.
The little girl smiled fatuously, as though I were paying
her compliments. "It's all green and brown," she said, pointing.
"Is it always like that?"
Then I remembered the wet fir tree near the gate,
and the enraptured kiss it had received, and blushed.
"Won't it come off?" persisted the little girl.
"Of course it will come off," I answered, frowning.
"Why don't you rub it off? "
Then I remembered the throwing away of the handkerchief,
and blushed again.
"Please lend me your handkerchief," I said humbly,
"I--I have lost mine."
There was a great fumbling in six different pockets, and then
a handkerchief that made me young again merely to look at it was produced.
<104> I took it thankfully and rubbed with energy, the little girl,
intensely interested, watching the operation and giving me advice.
"There--it's all right now--a little more on the right--there--
now it's all off."
"Are you sure? No green left?" I anxiously asked.
"No, it's red all over now," she replied cheerfully.
"Let me get home," thought I, very much upset by this information,
"let me get home to my dear, uncritical, admiring babies, who accept
my nose as an example of what a nose should be, and whatever
its colour think it beautiful." And thrusting the handkerchief
back into the little girl's hands, I hurried away down the path.
She packed it away hastily, but it took some seconds for it was
of the size of a small sheet, and then came running after me.
"Where are you going?" she asked surprised, as I turned down the path
leading to the gate.
"Through this gate," I replied with decision.
"But you mustn't--we're not allowed to go through there-- --"
So strong was the force of old habits in that place that at
the words not allowed my hand <105> dropped of itself from the latch;
and at that instant a voice calling quite close to us through the mist
struck me rigid.
"Elizabeth! Elizabeth!" called the voice, "Come in at once
to your lessons--Elizabeth! Elizabeth!"
"It's Miss Robinson," whispered the little girl,
twinkling with excitement; then, catching sight of my face,
she said once more with eager insistence, "Who are you?"
"Oh, I'm a ghost!" I cried with conviction, pressing my hands
to my forehead and looking round fearfully.
"Pooh," said the little girl.
It was the last remark I heard her make, for there was a creaking
of approaching boots in the bushes, and seized by a frightful panic I
pulled the gate open with one desperate pull, flung it to behind me,
and fled out and away down the wide, misty fields.
The Gotha Almanach says that the reigning cousin married
the daughter of a Mr. Johnstone, an Englishman, in 1885,
and that in 1886 their only child was born, Elizabeth. <106>
November 20th.--Last night we had ten degrees of frost
(Fahrenheit), and I went out the first thing this morning to see
what had become of the tea-roses, and behold, they were wide awake
and quite cheerful--covered with rime it is true, but anything
but black and shrivelled. Even those in boxes on each side
of the verandah steps were perfectly alive and full of buds,
and one in particular, a Bouquet d'Or, is a mass of buds,
and would flower if it could get the least encouragement.
I am beginning to think that the tenderness of tea-roses
is much exaggerated, and am certainly very glad I
had the courage to try them in this northern garden.
But I must not fly too boldly in the face of Providence,
and have ordered those in the boxes to be taken into the greenhouse
for the winter, and hope the Bouquet d'Or, in a sunny place
near the glass, may be induced to open some of those buds.
The greenhouse is only used as a refuge, and kept at a temperature
just above freezing, and is reserved entirely for such plants
as cannot stand the very coldest part of the winter out of doors.
I don't use it for growing anything, because I don't love things
that will only bear the garden for three or four months in the year
and require <107> coaxing and petting for the rest of it.
Give me a garden full of strong, healthy creatures, able to stand
roughness and cold without dismally giving in and dying.
I never could see that delicacy of constitution is pretty,
either in plants or women. No doubt there are many lovely
flowers to be had by heat and constant coaxing, but then
for each of these there are fifty others still lovelier that
will gratefully grow in God's wholesome air and are blessed
in return with a far greater intensity of scent and colour.
We have been very busy till now getting the permanent beds
into order and planting the new tea-roses, and I am looking forward
to next summer with more hope than ever in spite of my many failures.
I wish the years would pass quickly that will bring my garden to perfection!
The Persian Yellows have gone into their new quarters, and their place is
occupied by the tearose Safrano; all the rose beds are carpeted with pansies
sown in July and transplanted in October, each bed having a separate colour.
The purple ones are the most charming and go well with every rose,
but I have white ones with Laurette Messimy, and yellow ones
with Safrano, and a new red sort in the big centre bed of red roses.
<108> Round the semicircle on the south side of the little privet hedge
two rows of annual larkspurs in all their delicate shades have been sown,
and just beyond the larkspurs, on the grass, is a semicircle of standard
tea and pillar roses.
In front of the house the long borders have been stocked
with larkspurs, annual and perennial, columbines, giant poppies,
pinks, Madonna lilies, wallflowers, hollyhocks, perennial phloxes,
peonies, lavender, starworts, cornflowers, Lychnis chalcedonica,
and bulbs packed in wherever bulbs could go. These are the borders
that were so hardly used by the other gardener. The spring boxes
for the verandah steps have been filled with pink and white and
yellow tulips. I love tulips better than any other spring flower;
they are the embodiment of alert cheerfulness and tidy grace,
and next to a hyacinth look like a wholesome, freshly tubbed young
girl beside a stout lady whose every movement weighs down the air
with patchouli. Their faint, delicate scent is refinement itself;
and is there anything in the world more charming than the sprightly
way they hold up their little faces to the sun. I have heard them
called bold and flaunting, but to me they seem modest grace itself,
only always on the alert to enjoy life as <109> much as they can and not
afraid of looking the sun or anything else above them in the face.
On the grass there are two beds of them carpeted with forget-me-nots;
and in the grass, in scattered groups, are daffodils and narcissus.
Down the wilder shrubbery walks foxgloves and mulleins will (I hope)
shine majestic; and one cool corner, backed by a group of firs,
is graced by Madonna lilies, white foxgloves, and columbines.
In a distant glade I have made a spring garden round an oak
tree that stands alone in the sun--groups of crocuses, daffodils,
narcissus, hyacinths, and tulips, among such flowering shrubs
and trees as Pirus Malus spectabilis, floribunda, and coronaria;
Prunus Juliana, Mahaleb, serotina, triloba, and Pissardi;
Cydonias and Weigelias in every colour, and several kinds
of Crataegus and other May lovelinesses. If the weather behaves
itself nicely, and we get gentle rains in due season, I think
this little corner will be beautiful--but what a big "if" it is!
Drought is our great enemy, and the two last summers each
contained five weeks of blazing, cloudless heat when all
the ditches dried up and the soil was like hot pastry.
At such times the watering is naturally quite beyond the strength
of two men; but as a garden is a <110> place to be happy in,
and not one where you want to meet a dozen curious eyes at
every turn, I should not like to have more than these two,
or rather one and a half--the assistant having stork-like
proclivities and going home in the autumn to his native Russia,
returning in the spring with the first warm winds.
I want to keep him over the winter, as there is much to be done
even then, and I sounded him on the point the other day.
He is the most abject-looking of human beings--lame, and afflicted
with a hideous eye-disease; but he is a good worker and plods
along unwearyingly from sunrise to dusk.
"Pray, my good stork," said I, or German words to that effect,
"why don't you stay here altogether, instead of going home and rioting
away all you have earned?"
"I would stay," he answered," but I have my wife there in Russia."
"Your wife!" I exclaimed, stupidly surprised that the poor deformed
creature should have found a mate--as though there were not a superfluity
of mates in the world--"I didn't know you were married?"
"Yes, and I have two little children, and I <111>
don't know what they would do if I were not to come home.
But it is a very expensive journey to Russia, and costs me
every time seven marks."
"Yes, it is a great sum."
I wondered whether I should be able to get to Russia for seven marks,
supposing I were to be seized with an unnatural craving to go there.
All the labourers who work here from March to December
are Russians and Poles, or a mixture of both. We send a man
over who can speak their language, to fetch as many as he can
early in the year, and they arrive with their bundles,
men and women and babies, and as soon as they have got
here and had their fares paid, they disappear in the night
if they get the chance, sometimes fifty of them at a time,
to go and work singly or in couples for the peasants,
who pay them a pfenning or two more a day than we do,
and let them eat with the family. From us they get a mark
and a half to two marks a day, and as many potatoes as they
can eat. The women get less, not because they work less,
but because they are women and must not be encouraged.
The overseer lives with them, and has a loaded revolver in his
pocket and a savage dog at his heels. <112>
For the first week or two after their arrival, the foresters
and other permanent officials keep guard at night over the houses
they are put into. I suppose they find it sleepy work;
for certain it is that spring after spring the same thing happens,
fifty of them getting away in spite of all our precautions,
and we are left with our mouths open and much out of pocket.
This spring, by some mistake, they arrived without their bundles,
which had gone astray on the road, and, as they travel in their
best clothes, they refused utterly to work until their luggage came.
Nearly a week was lost waiting, to the despair of all in authority.
Nor will any persuasions induce them to do anything on Saints'
days, and there surely never was a church so full of them as the
Russian Church. In the spring, when every hour is of vital importance,
the work is constantly being interrupted by them, and the workers
lie sleeping in the sun the whole day, agreeably conscious that they
are pleasing themselves and the Church at one and the same time--
a state of perfection as rare as it is desirable. Reason unaided
by Faith is of course exasperated at this waste of precious time,
and I confess that during the first mild days <113> after the long
winter frost when it is possible to begin to work the ground,
I have sympathised with the gloom of the Man of Wrath, confronted in
one week by two or three empty days on which no man will labour,
and have listened in silence to his remarks about distant Russian saints.
I suppose it was my own superfluous amount of civilisation
that made me pity these people when first I came to live among them.
They herd together like animals and do the work of animals;
but in spite of the armed overseer, the dirt and the rags,
the meals of potatoes washed down by weak vinegar and water,
I am beginning to believe that they would strongly object
to soap, I am sure they would not wear new clothes, and I
hear them coming home from their work at dusk singing.
They are like little children or animals in their utter inability
to grasp the idea of a future; and after all, if you work all day
in God's sunshine, when evening comes you are pleasantly tired and
ready for rest and not much inclined to find fault with your lot.
I have not yet persuaded myself, however, that the women are happy.
They have to work as hard as the men and get less for it;
they have to produce offspring, quite regardless of times
and seasons <114> and the general fitness of things ; they
have to do this as expeditiously as possible, so that they
may not unduly interrupt the work in hand; nobody helps them,
notices them, or cares about them, least of all the husband.
It is quite a usual thing to see them working in the fields
in the morning, and working again in the afternoon, having in
the interval produced a baby. The baby is left to an old
woman whose duty it is to look after babies collectively.
When I expressed my horror at the poor creatures working
immediately afterwards as though nothing had happened, the Man
of Wrath informed me that they did not suffer because they had
never worn corsets, nor had their mothers and grandmothers.
We were riding together at the time, and had just passed a batch
of workers, and my husband was speaking to the overseer,
when a woman arrived alone, and taking up a spade, began to dig.
She grinned cheerfully at us as she made a curtesy, and the
overseer remarked that she had just been back to the house
and had a baby.
"Poor, poor woman!" I cried, as we rode on, feeling for
some occult reason very angry with the Man of Wrath.
"And her wretched husband doesn't care a rap, and will
probably beat her <115> to-night if his supper isn't right.
What nonsense it is to talk about the equality of the sexes
when the women have the babies! "
"Quite so, my dear," replied the Man of Wrath, smiling condescendingly.
"You have got to the very root of the matter. Nature, while imposing this
agreeable duty on the woman, weakens her and disables her for any serious
competition with man. How can a person who is constantly losing a year
of the best part of her life compete with a young man who never loses any time
at all? He has the brute force, and his last word on any subject could always
be his fist."
I said nothing. It was a dull, gray afternoon in the beginning
of November, and the leaves dropped slowly and silently at our horses'
feet as we rode towards the Hirschwald.
"It is a universal custom," proceeded the Man of Wrath,
"amongst these Russians, and I believe amongst the lower classes
everywhere, and certainly commendable on the score of simplicity,
to silence a woman's objections and aspirations by knocking her down.
I have heard it said that this apparently brutal action has anything
but the maddening effect tenderly nurtured persons might suppose,
and that the patient is soothed and satisfied with a rapidity
and completeness unattainable by other and more polite methods.
Do you suppose," he went on, flicking a twig off a tree with his whip
as we passed, "that the intellectual husband, wrestling intellectually
with the chaotic yearnings of his intellectual wife, ever achieves
the result aimed at? He may and does go on wrestling till he is tired,
but never does he in the very least convince her of her folly;
while his brother in the ragged coat has got through the whole
business in less time than it takes me to speak about it.
There is no doubt that these poor women fulfil their vocation far
more thoroughly than the women in our class, and, as the truest:
happiness consists in finding one's vocation quickly and continuing
in it all one's days, I consider they are to be envied rather
than not, since they are early taught, by the impossibility
of argument with marital muscle, the impotence of female endeavour
and the blessings of content."
"Pray go on," I said politely.
"These women accept their beatings with a simplicity worthy
of all praise, and far from considering themselves insulted, admire the
strength and energy of the man who can administer such eloquent rebukes.
In Russia, not only may a man <117> beat his wife, but it is laid
down in the catechism and taught all boys at the time of confirmation
as necessary at least once a week, whether she has done anything or not,
for the sake of her general health and happiness."
I thought I observed a tendency in the Man of Wrath rather
to gloat over these castigations.
"Pray, my dear man," I said, pointing with my whip,
"look at that baby moon so innocently peeping at us over
the edge of the mist just behind that silver birch; and don't
talk so much about women and things you don't understand.
What is the use of your bothering about fists and whips and
muscles and all the dreadful things invented for the confusion
of obstreperous wives? You know you are a civilised husband,
and a civilised husband is a creature who has ceased to be a man.
"And a civilised wife?" he asked, bringing his horse
close up beside me and putting his arm round my waist,
"has she ceased to be a woman?"
"I should think so indeed,--she is a goddess, and can
never be worshipped and adored enough."
"It seems to me," he said, "that the conversation is growing personal."
I started off at a canter across the short, springy turf.
The Hirschwald is an enchanted place on such an evening,
when the mists lie low on the turf, and overhead the delicate,
bare branches of the silver birches stand out clear against the soft sky,
while the little moon looks down kindly on the damp November world.
Where the trees thicken into a wood, the fragrance of the wet earth
and rotting leaves kicked up by the horses' hoofs fills my soul
with delight. I particularly love that smell,--it brings before me
the entire benevolence of Nature, for ever working death and decay,
so piteous in themselves, into the means of fresh life and glory,
and sending up sweet odours as she works.
December 7th.--I have been to England. I went for at least
a month and stayed a week in a fog and was blown home again in a gale.
Twice I fled before the fogs into the country to see friends
with gardens, but it was raining, and except the beautiful lawns
(not to be had in the Fatherland) and the infinite possibilities,
there was nothing to interest the intelligent and garden-loving foreigner,
for the good reason that you cannot be interested in gardens under
an <119> umbrella. So I went back to the fogs, and after groping
about for a few days more began to long inordinately for Germany.
A terrific gale sprang up after I had started, and the journey both
by sea and land was full of horrors, the trains in Germany being
heated to such an extent that it is next to impossible to sit still,
great gusts of hot air coming up under the cushions, the cushions
themselves being very hot, and the wretched traveller still hotter.
But when I reached my home and got out of the train into the purest,
brightest snow-atmosphere, the air so still that the whole world seemed
to be listening, the sky cloudless, the crisp snow sparkling underfoot
and on the trees, and a happy row of three beaming babies awaiting me,
I was consoled for all my torments, only remembering them enough to wonder
why I had gone away at all.
The babies each had a kitten in one hand and an elegant
bouquet of pine needles and grass in the other, and what with
the due presentation of the bouquets and the struggles of
the kittens, the hugging and kissing was much interfered with.
Kittens, bouquets, and babies were all somehow squeezed into
the sleigh, and off we went with jingling bells and shrieks
of delight. <120>
"Directly you comes home the fun begins," said the May baby,
sitting very close to me. "How the snow purrs!" cried the
April baby, as the horses scrunched it up with their feet.
The June baby sat loudly singing "The King of Love my Shepherd is,"
and swinging her kitten round by its tail to emphasise the rhythm.
The house, half-buried in the snow, looked the very abode
of peace, and I ran through all the rooms, eager to take possession
of them again, and feeling as though I had been away for ever.
When I got to the library I came to a standstill,--ah, the dear room,
what happy times I have spent in it rummaging amongst the books,
making plans for my garden, building castles in the air, writing,
dreaming, doing nothing! There was a big peat fire blazing half up
the chimney, and the old housekeeper had put pots of flowers about,
and on the writingtable was a great bunch of violets scenting the room.
"Oh, how good it is to be home again!" I sighed in my satisfaction.
The babies clung about my knees, looking up at me with eyes full of love.
Outside the dazzling snow and sunshine, inside the bright room
and happy faces--I thought of those yellow fogs and shivered. <121>
The library is not used by the Man of Wrath ; it is
neutral ground where we meet in the evenings for an hour before
he disappears into his own rooms--a series of very smoky dens
in the southeast corner of the house. It looks, I am afraid,
rather too gay for an ideal library; and its colouring,
white and yellow, is so cheerful as to be almost frivolous.
There are white bookcases all round the walls, and there
is a great fireplace, and four windows, facing full south,
opening on to my most cherished bit of garden, the bit round
the sun-dial; so that with so much colour and such a big fire
and such floods of sunshine it has anything but a sober air,
in spite of the venerable volumes filling the shelves.
Indeed, I should never be surprised if they skipped down from
their places, and, picking up their leaves, began to dance.
With this room to live in, I can look forward with perfect equanimity
to being snowed up for any time Providence thinks proper; and to go into
the garden in its snowed-up state is like going into a bath of purity.
The first breath on opening the door is so ineffably pure that it makes
me gasp, and I feel a black and sinful object in the midst of all
the spotlessness. <122>
Yesterday I sat out of doors near the sun-dial the whole afternoon,
with the thermometer so many degrees below freezing that it
will be weeks finding its way up again; but there was no wind,
and beautiful sunshine, and I was well wrapped up in furs.
I even had tea brought out there, to the astonishment of the menials,
and sat till long after the sun had set, enjoying the frosty air.
I had to drink the tea very quickly, for it showed a strong inclination
to begin to freeze. After the sun had gone down the rooks came home
to their nests in the garden with a great fuss and fluttering, and many
hesitations and squabbles before they settled on their respective trees.
They flew over my head in hundreds with a mighty swish of wings,
and when they had arranged themselves comfortably, an intense hush fell
upon the garden, and the house began to look like a Christmas card,
with its white roof against the clear, pale green of the western sky,
and lamplight shining in the windows.
I had been reading a Life of Luther, lent me by our parson,
in the intervals between looking round me and being happy.
He came one day with the book and begged me to read it,
having discovered <123> that my interest in Luther was not as living
as it ought to be; so I took it out with me into the garden,
because the dullest book takes on a certain saving grace
if read out of doors, just as bread and butter, devoid of
charm in the drawing-room, is ambrosia eaten under a tree.
I read Luther all the afternoon with pauses for refreshing glances
at the garden and the sky, and much thankfulness in my heart.
His struggles with devils amazed me ; and I wondered whether
such a day as that, full of grace and the forgiveness of sins,
never struck him as something to make him relent even towards devils.
He apparently never allowed himself just to be happy.
He was a wonderful man, but I am glad I was not his wife.
Our parson is an interesting person, and untiring in his efforts
to improve himself. Both he and his wife study whenever they have
a spare moment, and there is a tradition that she stirs her puddings
with one hand and holds a Latin grammar in the other, the grammar,
of course, getting the greater share of her attention. To most German
Hausfraus the dinners and the puddings are of paramount importance,
and they pride themselves on keeping those parts of their houses
that are seen in a state of perpetual and spotless perfection,
and this is exceedingly praiseworthy; but, I would humbly inquire,
are there not other things even more important? And is not plain
living and high thinking better than the other way about?
And all too careful making of dinners and dusting of furniture takes
a terrible amount of precious time, and--and with shame I confess
that my sympathies are all with the pudding and the grammar.
It cannot be right to be the slave of one's household gods, and I protest
that if my furniture ever annoyed me by wanting to be dusted when I
wanted to be doing something else, and there was no one to do the dusting
for me, I would cast it all into the nearest bonfire and sit and warm
my toes at the flames with great contentment, triumphantly selling
my dusters to the very next pedlar who was weak enough to buy them.
Parsons' wives have to do the housework and cooking themselves,
and are thus not only cooks and housemaids, but if they have children--
and they always do have children--they are head and under nurse as well;
and besides these trifling duties have a good deal to do with their
fruit and vegetable garden, and everything to do with their poultry.
This being so, is it not pathetic to find a young woman bravely
struggling to learn languages and keep up with her husband?
If I were that husband, those puddings would taste sweetest to me
that were served with Latin sauce. They are both severely pious,
and are for ever engaged in desperate efforts to practise what
they preach; than which, as we all know, nothing is more difficult.
He works in his parish with the most noble self-devotion, and
never loses courage, although his efforts have been several times
rewarded by disgusting libels pasted up on the street-corners,
thrown under doors, and even fastened to his own garden wall.
The peasant hereabouts is past belief low and animal, and a sensitive,
intellectual parson among them is really a pearl before swine.
For years he has gone on unflinchingly, filled with the most living
faith and hope and charity, and I sometimes wonder whether they are
any better now in his parish than they were under his predecessor,
a man who smoked and drank beer from Monday morning to Saturday night,
never did a stroke of work, and often kept the scanty congregation
waiting on Sunday afternoons while he finished his postprandial nap.
It is discouraging enough to make most men give in, and leave
the parish to get to heaven or not as it pleases; but he never
seems <126> discouraged, and goes on sacrificing the best part
of his life to these people when all his tastes are literary,
and all his inclinations towards the life of the student.
His convictions drag him out of his little home at all hours to
minister to the sick and exhort the wicked; they give him no rest,
and never let him feel he has done enough; and when he comes home weary,
after a day's wrestling with his parishioners' souls, he is confronted
on his doorstep by filthy abuse pasted up on his own front door.
He never speaks of these things, but how shall they be hid?
Everybody here knows everything that happens before the day is over,
and what we have for dinner is of far greater general interest
than the most astounding political earthquake. They have a pretty,
roomy cottage, and a good bit of ground adjoining the churchyard.
His predecessor used to hang out his washing on the tombstones to dry,
but then he was a person entirely lost to all sense of decency,
and had finally to be removed, preaching a farewell sermon
of a most vituperative description, and hurling invective at
the Man of Wrath, who sat up in his box drinking in every word
and enjoying himself thoroughly. The Man of Wrath likes novelty,
and such a sermon had never been heard before. <127> It is spoken
of in the village to this day with bated breath and awful joy.
December 22nd.--Up to now we have had a beautiful winter.
Clear skies, frost, little wind, and, except for a sharp touch
now and then, very few really cold days. My windows are gay with
hyacinths and lilies of the valley; and though, as I have said,
I don't admire the smell of hyacinths in the spring when it seems
wanting in youth and chastity next to that of other flowers,
I am glad enough now to bury my nose in their heavy sweetness.
In December one cannot afford to be fastidious; besides, one is
actually less fastidious about everything in the winter.
The keen air braces soul as well as body into robustness,
and the food and the perfume disliked in the summer are
perfectly welcome then.
I am very busy preparing for Christmas, but have
often locked myself up in a room alone, shutting out my
unfinished duties, to study the flower catalogues and make
my lists of seeds and shrubs and trees for the spring.
It is a fascinating occupation, and acquires an additional
charm when you know you ought to be doing something else,
that Christmas is at the door, that children <128> and servants
and farm hands depend on you for their pleasure, and that,
if you don't see to the decoration of the trees and house,
and the buying of the presents, nobody else will.
The hours fly by shut up with those catalogues and with Duty
snarling on the other side of the door. I don't like Duty--
everything in the least disagreeable is always sure to be one's duty.
Why cannot it be my duty to make lists and plans for the dear garden?
"And so it is," I insisted to the Man of Wrath, when he
protested against what he called wasting my time upstairs.
"No," he replied sagely; "your garden is not your duty,
because it is your Pleasure."
What a comfort it is to have such wells of wisdom constantly
at my disposal! Anybody can have a husband, but to few is it given
to have a sage, and the combination of both is as rare as it is useful.
Indeed, in its practical utility the only thing I ever saw to equal it
is a sofa my neighbour has bought as a Christmas surprise for her husband,
and which she showed me the last time I called there--a beautiful invention,
as she explained, combining a bedstead, a sofa, and a chest of drawers,
and into which you put your clothes, and on top of which you put yourself,
and if anybody calls in the middle of the night and you happen to be
using the drawing-room as a bedroom, you just pop the bedclothes inside,
and there you are discovered sitting on your sofa and looking for all
the world as though you had been expecting visitors for hours.
"Pray, does he wear pyjamas?" I inquired.
But she had never heard of pyjamas.
It takes a long time to make my spring lists.
I want to have a border all yellow, every shade of yellow
from fieriest orange to nearly white, and the amount
of work and studying of gardening books it costs me
will only be appreciated by beginners like myself.
I have been weeks planning it, and it is not nearly finished.
I want it to be a succession of glories from May till the frosts,
and the chief feature is to be the number of "ardent marigolds"--
flowers that I very tenderly love--and nasturtiums.
The nasturtiums are to be of every sort and shade,
and are to climb and creep and grow in bushes, and show
their lovely flowers and leaves to the best advantage.
Then there are to be eschscholtzias, dahlias, sunflowers,
zinnias, scabiosa, portulaca, yellow violas, yellow stocks,
yellow sweet-peas, yellow lupins--everything that is yellow
or that has a yellow variety. The place I have chosen for it
is a long, wide border in the sun, at the foot of a grassy
slope crowned with lilacs and pines, and facing southeast.
You go through a little pine wood, and, turning a corner,
are to come suddenly upon this bit of captured morning glory.
I want it to be blinding in its brightness after the dark,
cool path through the wood.
That is the idea. Depression seizes me when I reflect upon
the probable difference between the idea and its realisation.
I am ignorant, and the gardener is, I do believe, still more so;
for he was forcing some tulips, and they have all shrivelled up
and died, and he says he cannot imagine why. Besides, he is in love
with the cook, and is going to marry her after Christmas, and refuses
to enter into any of my plans with the enthusiasm they deserve,
but sits with vacant eye dreamily chopping wood from morning till
night to keep the beloved one's kitchen fire well supplied.
I cannot understand any one preferring cooks to marigolds;
those future marigolds, shadowy as they are, and whose seeds are
still sleeping at the seedsman's, have shone through my winter days
like golden lamps.
I wish with all my heart I were a man, for of <131> course the first
thing I should do would be to buy a spade and go and garden, and then I
should have the delight of doing everything for my flowers with my own hands
and need not waste time explaining what I want done to somebody else.
It is dull work giving orders and trying to describe the bright
visions of one's brain to a person who has no visions and no brain,
and who thinks a yellow bed should be calceolarias edged with blue.
I have taken care in choosing my yellow plants to put down only
those humble ones that are easily pleased and grateful for little,
for my soil is by no means all that it might be, and to most
plants the climate is rather trying. I feel really grateful
to any flower that is sturdy and willing enough to flourish here.
Pansies seem to like the place and so do sweet-peas; pinks don't,
and after much coaxing gave hardly any flowers last summer.
Nearly all the roses were a success, in spite of the sandy soil,
except the tea-rose Adam, which was covered with buds ready
to open, when they suddenly turned brown and died, and three
standard Dr. Grills which stood in a row and simply sulked.
I had been very excited about Dr. Grill, his description
in the catalogues being <132> specially fascinating,
and no doubt I deserved the snubbing I got. "Never be excited,
my dears, about anything," shall be the advice I will give
the three babies when the time comes to take them out to parties,
"or, if you are, don't show it. If by nature you are volcanoes,
at least be only smouldering ones. Don't look pleased,
don't look interested, don't, above all things, look eager.
Calm indifference should be written on every feature of your faces.
Never show that you like any one person, or any one thing.
Be cool, languid, and reserved. If you don't do as your
mother tells you and are just gushing, frisky, young idiots,
snubs will be your portion. If you do as she tells you,
you'll marry princes and live happily ever after."
Dr. Grill must be a German rose. In this part of
the world the more you are pleased to see a person the less
is he pleased to see you; whereas, if you are disagreeable,
he will grow pleasant visibly, his countenance expanding
into wider amiability the more your own is stiff and sour.
But I was not Prepared for that sort of thing in a rose,
and was disgusted with Dr. Grill. He had the best place in
the garden--warm, sunny, and sheltered; his holes were prepared
<133> with the tenderest care; he was given the most dainty
mixture of compost, clay, and manure; he was watered assiduously
all through the drought when more willing flowers got nothing;
and he refused to do anything but look black and shrivel.
He did not die, but neither did he live--he just existed;
and at the end of the summer not one of him had a scrap
more shoot or leaf than when he was first put in in April.
It would have been better if he had died straight away, for then
I should have known what to do; as it is, there he is still
occupying the best place, wrapped up carefully for the winter,
excluding kinder roses, and probably intending to repeat
the same conduct next year. Well, trials are the portion
of mankind, and gardeners have their share, and in any case
it is better to be tried by plants than persons, seeing that
with plants you know that it is you who are in the wrong,
and with persons it is always the other way about--and who is
there among us who has not felt the pangs of injured innocence,
and known them to be grievous?
I have two visitors staying with me, though I have done nothing
to provoke such an infliction, and had been looking forward to a happy
little Christmas alone with the Man of Wrath and the <134> babies.
Fate decreed otherwise. Quite regularly, if I look forward to anything,
Fate steps in and decrees otherwise; I don't know why it should, but it does.
I had not even invited these good ladies--like greatness on the modest,
they were thrust upon me. One is Irais, the sweet singer of the summer,
whom I love as she deserves, but of whom I certainly thought I had seen
the last for at least a year, when she wrote and asked if I would have her
over Christmas, as her husband was out of sorts, and she didn't like him
in that state. Neither do I like sick husbands, so, full of sympathy,
I begged her to come, and here she is. And the other is Minora.
Why I have to have Minora I don't know, for I
was not even aware of her existence a fortnight ago.
Then coming down cheerfully one morning to breakfast--
it was the very day after my return from England--
I found a letter from an English friend, who up till then
had been perfectly innocuous, asking me to befriend Minora.
I read the letter aloud for the benefit of the Man of Wrath,
who was eating Spickgans, a delicacy much sought after in
these parts. <135>
"Do, my dear Elizabeth," wrote my friend, "take some
notice of the poor thing. She is studying art in Dresden,
and has nowhere literally to go for Christmas.
She is very ambitious and hardworking--"
"Then," interrupted the Man of Wrath," she is not pretty.
"Only ugly girls work hard."
"--and she is really very clever--"
"I do not like clever girls, they are so stupid,"
again interrupted the Man of Wrath.
"--and unless some kind creature like yourself takes pity
on her she will be very lonely."
"Then let her be lonely."
"Her mother is my oldest friend, and would be greatly distressed to think
that her daughter should be alone in a foreign town at such a season."
"I do not mind the distress of the mother."
"Oh, dear me," I exclaimed impatiently, "I shall have to ask
her to come!"
"If you should be inclined," the letter went on, "to play
the good Samaritan, dear Elizabeth, I am positive you would
find Minora a bright, intelligent companion--"
"Minora?" questioned the Man of Wrath.
The April baby, who has had a nursery governess of an altogether
alarmingly zealous type <136> attached to her person for the last six weeks,
looked up from her bread and milk.
"It sounds like islands," she remarked pensively.
The governess coughed.
"Majora, Minora, Alderney, and Sark," explained her pupil.
I looked at her severely.
"If you are not careful, April," I said, "you'll be a genius
when you grow up and disgrace your parents."
Miss Jones looked as though she did not like Germans.
I am afraid she despises us because she thinks we are foreigners--
an attitude of mind quite British and wholly to her credit; but we,
on the other hand, regard her as a foreigner, which, of course,
makes things complicated.
"Shall I really have to have this strange girl?"
I asked, addressing nobody in particular and not expecting a reply.
"You need not have her," said the Man of Wrath composedly,
"but you will. You will write to-day and cordially invite her,
and when she has been here twenty-four hours you will quarrel with her.
I know you, my dear."
"Quarrel! I? With a little art-student?" <137>
Miss Jones cast down her eyes. She is perpetually
scenting a scene, and is always ready to bring whole batteries
of discretion and tact and good taste to bear on us, and seems
to know we are disputing in an unseemly manner when we would
never dream it ourselves but for the warning of her downcast eyes.
I would take my courage in both hands and ask her to go,
for besides this superfluity of discreet behaviour she is,
although only nursery, much too zealous, and inclined to be always
teaching and never playing; but, unfortunately, the April baby
adores her and is sure there never was any one so beautiful before.
She comes every day with fresh accounts of the splendours of
her wardrobe, and feeling descriptions of her umbrellas and hats;
and Miss Jones looks offended and purses up her lips.
In common with most governesses, she has a little dark
down on her upper lip, and the April baby appeared one day
at dinner with her own decorated in faithful imitation,
having achieved it after much struggling, with the aid of a lead
pencil and unbounded love. Miss Jones put her in the corner
for impertinence. I wonder why governesses are so unpleasant.
The Man of Wrath says it is because they are not married.
Without venturing <138> to differ entirely from the opinion
of experience, I would add that the strain of continually having
to set an example must surely be very great. It is much easier,
and often more pleasant, to be a warning than an example,
and governesses are but women, and women are sometimes foolish,
and when you want to be foolish it must be annoying to have
to be wise.
Minora and Irais arrived yesterday together; or rather,
when the carriage drove up, Irais got out of it alone, and informed
me that there was a strange girl on a bicycle a little way behind.
I sent back the carriage to pick her up, for it was dusk and
the roads are terrible.
"But why do you have strange girls here at all?" asked Irais
rather peevishly, taking off her hat in the library before the fire,
and otherwise making herself very much at home; "I don't like them.
I'm not sure that they're not worse than husbands who are out of order.
Who is she? She would bicycle from the station, and is, I am sure,
the first woman who has done it. The little boys threw stones at her."
"Oh, my dear, that only shows the ignorance of the little boys.
Never mind her. Let us have tea in peace before she comes." <139>
"But we should be much happier without her," she grumbled.
"Weren't we happy enough in the summer, Elizabeth--just you and I? "
"Yes, indeed we were," I answered heartily, putting my
arms round her. The flame of my affection for Irais burns
very brightly on the day of her arrival; besides, this time I
have prudently provided against her sinning with the salt-cellars
by ordering them to be handed round like vegetable dishes.
We had finished tea and she had gone up to her room to dress
before Minora and her bicycle were got here. I hurried out
to meet her, feeling sorry for her, plunged into a circle
of strangers at such a very personal season as Christmas.
But she was not very shy; indeed, she was less shy than I was,
and lingered in the hall, giving the servants directions
to wipe the snow off the tyres of her machine before she lent
an attentive ear to my welcoming remarks.
"I couldn't make your man understand me at the station,"
she said at last, when her mind was at rest about her bicycle;
"I asked him how far it was, and what the roads were like,
and he only smiled. Is he German? But of course he is--
how odd that he didn't understand. You speak English very well,--
very well indeed, do you know." <140>
By this time we were in the library, and she stood on the hearth-rug
warming her back while I poured her out some tea.
"What a quaint room," she remarked, looking round,
"and the hall is so curious too. Very old, isn't it?
There's a lot of copy here."
The Man of Wrath, who had been in the hall on her arrival
and had come in with us, began to look about on the carpet.
"Copy" he inquired, "Where's copy? "
"Oh--material, you know, for a book. I'm just jotting down what strikes
me in your country, and when I have time shall throw it into book form."
She spoke very loud, as English people always do to foreigners.
"My dear," I said breathlessly to Irais, when I had got into her room
and shut the door and Minora was safely in hers, "what do you think--
she writes books!"
"What--the bicycling girl?"
We stood and looked at each other with awestruck faces.
"How dreadful!" murmured Irais. "I never met a young girl
who did that before."
"She says this place is full of copy." <141>
"Full of what? "
"That's what you make books with."
"Oh, my dear, this is worse than I expected! A strange girl is
always a bore among good friends, but one can generally manage her.
But a girl who writes books--why, it isn't respectable!
And you can't snub that sort of people; they're unsnubbable."
"Oh, but we'll try!" I cried, with such heartiness
that we both laughed.
The hall and the library struck Minora most; indeed, she
lingered so long after dinner in the hall, which is cold,
that the Man of Wrath put on his fur coat by way of a gentle hint.
His hints are always gentle.
She wanted to hear the whole story about the chapel and
the nuns and Gustavus Adolphus, and pulling out a fat note-book
began to take down what I said. I at once relapsed into silence.
"Well?" she said.
"Oh, but you've only just begun."
"It doesn't go any further. Won't you come into the library? "
In the library she again took up her stand before the fire
and warmed herself, and we sat in <142> a row and were cold.
She has a wonderfully good profile, which is irritating.
The wind, however, is tempered to the shorn lamb by her eyes
being set too closely together.
Irais lit a cigarette, and leaning back in her chair,
contemplated her critically beneath her long eyelashes.
"You are writing a book?" she asked presently.
"Well--yes, I suppose I may say that I am. Just my impressions,
you know, of your country. Anything that strikes me as curious
or amusing--I jot it down, and when I have time shall work it up
into something, I daresay."
"Are you not studying painting? "
"Yes, but I can't study that for ever. We have an English proverb:
'Life is short and Art is long'--too long, I sometimes think--
and writing is a great relaxation when I am tired."
"What shall you call it?"
"Oh, I thought of calling it Journeyings in Germany.
It sounds well, and would be correct. Or Jottings from
German Journeyings,--I haven't quite decided yet which."
"By the author of Prowls in Pomerania, you might add," suggested Irais.
"And Drivel from Dresden," said I. <143>
"And Bosh from Berlin," added Irais.
Minora stared. "I don't think those two last ones would do,"
she said, "because it is not to be a facetious book.
But your first one is rather a good title," she added,
looking at Irais and drawing out her note-book. "I think I'll
just jot that down."
"If you jot down all we say and then publish it, will it
still be your book?" asked Irais.
But Minora was so busy scribbling that she did not hear.
"And have you no suggestions to make, Sage?" asked Irais,
turning to the Man of Wrath, who was blowing out clouds
of smoke in silence.
"Oh, do you call him Sage?" cried Minora; "and always in English?"
Irais and I looked at each other. We knew what we did call him,
and were afraid Minora would in time ferret it out and enter it in her
note-book. The Man of Wrath looked none too well pleased to be alluded
to under his very nose by our new guest as "him."
"Husbands are always sages," said I gravely.
"Though sages are not always husbands," said Irais with equal gravity.
"Sages and husbands--sage and husbands--" she went on musingly, "what does
that remind you of, Miss Minora?"
"Oh, I know,--how stupid of me!" cried Minora eagerly, her pencil
in mid-air and her brain clutching at the elusive recollection, "sage and,--
why,--yes,--no,--yes, of course--oh," disappointedly, "but that's vulgar--
I can't put it in."
"What is vulgar?" I asked.
"She thinks sage and onions is vulgar," said Irais languidly;
"but it isn't, it is very good." She got up and walked to
the piano, and, sitting down, began, after a little wandering
over the keys, to sing.
"Do you play?" I asked Minora.
"Yes, but I am afraid I am rather out of practice."
I said no more. I know what that sort of playing is.
"When we were lighting our bedroom candles Minora
began suddenly to speak in an unknown tongue. We stared.
"What is the matter with her?" murmured Irais.
"I thought, perhaps," said Minora in English, you might prefer
to talk German, and as it is all the same to me what I talk--" <145>
"Oh, pray don't trouble," said Irais. "We like airing our English--
don't we, Elizabeth?"
"I don't want my German to get rusty though," said Minora;
"I shouldn't like to forget it."
"Oh, but isn't there an English song," said Irais, twisting round
her neck as she preceded us upstairs, "''Tis folly to remember,
'tis wisdom to forget'?"
"You are not nervous sleeping alone, I hope," I said hastily.
"What room is she in?" asked Irais.
"Oh!--do you believe in ghosts?"
Minora turned pale.
"What nonsense," said I; "we have no ghosts here.
Good-night. If you want anything, mind you ring."
"And if you see anything curious in that room,"
called Irais from her bedroom door, "mind you jot it down."
December 27th--It is the fashion, I believe,
to regard Christmas as a bore of rather a gross description,
and as a time when you are invited to over-eat yourself,
and pretend to be merry <146> without just cause.
As a matter of fact, it is one of the prettiest and most poetic
institutions possible, if observed in the proper manner,
and after having been more or less unpleasant to everybody
for a whole year, it is a blessing to be forced on that one day
to be amiable, and it is certainly delightful to be able to give
presents without being haunted by the conviction that you
are spoiling the recipient, and will suffer for it afterward.
Servants are only big children, and are made just as happy
as children by little presents and nice things to eat, and,
for days beforehand, every time the three babies go into the garden
they expect to meet the Christ Child with His arms full of gifts.
They firmly believe that it is thus their presents are brought,
and it is such a charming idea that Christmas would be worth
celebrating for its sake alone.
As great secrecy is observed, the preparations devolve
entirely on me, and it is not very easy work, with so many people
in our own house and on each of the farms, and all the children,
big and little, expecting their share of happiness.
The library is uninhabitable for several days before and after,
as it is there that we have the trees and presents.
All down one side are the trees, and <147> the other three sides
are lined with tables, a separate one for each person in the house.
When the trees are lighted, and stand in their radiance shining
down on the happy faces, I forget all the trouble it has been,
and the number of times I have had to run up and down stairs,
and the various aches in head and feet, and enjoy myself as much
as anybody. First the June baby is ushered in, then the others
and ourselves according to age, then the servants, then come
the head inspector and his family, the other inspectors from
the different farms, the mamsells, the bookkeepers and secretaries,
and then all the children, troops and troops of them--
the big ones leading the little ones by the hand and carrying
the babies in their arms, and the mothers peeping round the door.
As many as can get in stand in front of the trees, and sing
two or three carols; then they are given their presents,
and go off triumphantly, making room for the next batch.
My three babies sang lustily too, whether they happened
to know what was being sung or not. They had on white dresses
in honour of the occasion, and the June baby was even arrayed
in a low-necked and short-sleeved garment, after the manner
of Teutonic infants, whatever the <148> state of the thermometer.
Her arms are like miniature prize-fighter's arms--I never saw
such things; they are the pride and joy of her little nurse,
who had tied them up with blue ribbons, and kept on kissing them.
I shall certainly not be able to take her to balls when she
grows up, if she goes on having arms like that.
When they came to say good-night, they were all very pale and subdued.
The April baby had an exhausted-looking Japanese doll with her,
which she said she was taking to bed, not because she liked him,
but because she was so sorry for him, he seemed so very tired.
They kissed me absently, and went away, only the April baby glancing
at the trees as she passed and making them a curtesy.
"Good-bye, trees," I heard her say; and then she made the Japanese
doll bow to them, which he did, in a very languid and blase fashion.
"You'll never see such trees again," she told him, giving him
a vindictive shake, "for you'll be brokened long before next time."
She went out, but came back as though she had forgotten something.
"Thank the Christkind so much, Mummy, won't you,
for all the lovely things He brought <149> us. I suppose
you're writing to Him now, isn't you?"
I cannot see that there was anything gross about our Christmas,
and we were perfectly merry without any need to pretend, and for at least
two days it brought us a little nearer together, and made us kind.
Happiness is so wholesome; it invigorates and warms me into piety
far more effectually than any amount of trials and griefs, and an
unexpected pleasure is the surest means of bringing me to my knees.
In spite of the protestations of some peculiarly constructed
persons that they are the better for trials, I don't believe it.
Such things must sour us, just as happiness must sweeten us,
and make us kinder, and more gentle. And will anybody affirm that it
behoves us to be more thankful for trials than for blessings?
We were meant to be happy, and to accept all the happiness offered
with thankfulness--indeed, we are none of us ever thankful enough,
and yet we each get so much, so very much, more than we deserve.
I know a woman--she stayed with me last summer--who rejoices grimly
when those she loves suffer. She believes that it is our lot,
and that it braces us and does us good, and she <150> would shield
no one from even unnecessary pain; she weeps with the sufferer,
but is convinced it is all for the best. Well, let her continue
in her dreary beliefs; she has no garden to teach her the beauty and
the happiness of holiness, nor does she in the least desire to possess one;
her convictions have the sad gray colouring of the dingy streets
and houses she lives amongst--the sad colour of humanity in masses.
Submission to what people call their "lot" is simply ignoble.
If your lot makes you cry and be wretched, get rid of it and take another;
strike out for yourself; don't listen to the shrieks of your relations,
to their gibes or their entreaties; don't let your own microscopic
set prescribe your goings-out and comings-in; don't be afraid
of public opinion in the shape of the neighbour in the next house,
when all the world is before you new and shining, and everything
is possible, if you will only be energetic and independent and seize
opportunity by the scruff of the neck.
"To hear you talk," said Irais, "no one would ever imagine
that you dream away your days in a garden with a book, and that you
never in your life seized anything by the scruff of its neck.
<151> And what is scruff? I hope I have not got any on me."
And she craned her neck before the glass.
She and Minora were going to help me decorate the trees,
but very soon Irais wandered off to the piano, and Minora was tired
and took up a book; so I called in Miss Jones and the babies--
it was Miss Jones's last public appearance, as I shall relate--
and after working for the best part of two days they were finished,
and looked like lovely ladies in widespreading, sparkling petticoats,
holding up their skirts with glittering fingers.
Minora wrote a long description of them for a chapter of her
book which is headed Noel,--I saw that much, because she left
it open on the table while she went to talk to Miss Jones.
They were fast friends from the very first, and though it
is said to be natural to take to one's own countrymen,
I am unable altogether to sympathise with such a reason
for sudden affection.
"I wonder what they talk about?" I said to Irais yesterday,
when there was no getting Minora to come to tea, so deeply was she
engaged in conversation with Miss Jones.
"Oh, my dear, how can I tell? Lovers, I <152> suppose,
or else they think they are clever, and then they talk rubbish."
"Well, of course, Minora thinks she is clever."
"I suppose she does. What does it matter what she thinks?
Why does your governess look so gloomy? When I see her at luncheon
I always imagine she must have just heard that somebody is dead.
But she can't hear that every day. What is the matter with her? "
"I don't think she feels quite as proper as she looks,"
I said doubtfully; I was for ever trying to account for
Miss Jones's expression.
"But that must be rather nice," said Irais. "It would
be awful for her if she felt exactly the same as she looks."
At that moment the door leading into the schoolroom opened softly,
and the April baby, tired of playing, came in and sat down at my feet,
leaving the door open; and this is what we heard Miss Jones saying--
"Parents are seldom wise, and the strain the conscientious place upon
themselves to appear so before their children and governess must be terrible.
Nor are clergymen more pious than other men, yet they have continually
to pose <153> before their flock as such. As for governesses, Miss Minora,
I know what I am saying when I affirm that there is nothing more
intolerable than to have to be polite, and even humble, to persons whose
weaknesses and follies are glaringly apparent in every word they utter,
and to be forced by the presence of children and employers to a dignity
of manner in no way corresponding to one's feelings. The grave father
of a family, who was probably one of the least respectable of bachelors,
is an interesting study at his own table, where he is constrained to assume
airs of infallibility merely because his children are looking at him.
The fact of his being a parent does not endow him with any supreme and
sudden virtue; and I can assure you that among the eyes fixed upon him,
not the least critical and amused are those of the humble person who fills
the post of governess."
"Oh, Miss Jones, how lovely!" we heard Minora say
in accents of rapture, while we sat transfixed with horror at
these sentiments. "Do you mind if I put that down in my book?
You say it all so beautifully."
"Without a few hours of relaxation," continued Miss Jones,
"of private indemnification for the <154> toilsome virtues displayed
in public, who could wade through days of correct behaviour?
There would be no reaction, no room for better impulses,
no place for repentance. Parents, priests, and governesses
would be in the situation of a stout lady who never has a quiet
moment in which she can take off her corsets."
"My dear, what a firebrand!" whispered Irais. I got up and went in.
They were sitting on the sofa, Minora with clasped hands, gazing admiringly
into Miss Jones's face, which wore a very different expression from the one
of sour and unwilling propriety I have been used to seeing.
"May I ask you to come to tea?" I said to Minora.
And I should like to have the children a little while."
She got up very reluctantly, but I waited with the door
open until she had gone in and the two babies had followed.
They had been playing at stuffing each other's ears with pieces
of newspaper while Miss Jones provided Minora with noble thoughts
for her work, and had to be tortured afterward with tweezers.
I said nothing to Minora, but kept her with us till dinner-time,
and this morning we went for a long sleigh-drive. <155>
When we came in to lunch there was no Miss Jones.
"Is Miss Jones ill?" asked Minora.
"She is gone," I said.
"Did you never hear of such things as sick mothers?" asked Irais blandly;
and we talked resolutely of something else.
All the afternoon Minora has moped. She had found a kindred spirit,
and it has been ruthlessly torn from her arms as kindred spirits
so often are. It is enough to make her mope, and it is not her fault,
poor thing, that she should have preferred the society of a Miss Jones
to that of Irais and myself.
At dinner Irais surveyed her with her head on one side.
"You look so pale," she said; "are you not well?"
Minora raised her eyes heavily, with the patient air of one
who likes to be thought a sufferer. "I have a slight headache,"
she replied gently.
"I hope you are not going to be ill," said Irais with great concern,
"because there is only a cow-doctor to be had here, and though he means well,
I believe he is rather rough." <156>
Minora was plainly startled. "But what do you do if you
are ill?" she asked.
"Oh, we are never ill," said I; "the very knowledge that there
would be no one to cure us seems to keep us healthy."
"And if any one takes to her bed," said Irais, "Elizabeth always calls
in the cow-doctor."
Minora was silent. She feels, I am sure, that she has got into a part
of the world peopled solely by barbarians, and that the only civilised
creature besides herself has departed and left her at our mercy.
Whatever her reflections may be her symptoms are visibly abating.
January 1st.--The service on New Year's Eve is the only one in
the whole year that in the least impresses me in our little church,
and then the very bareness and ugliness of the place and the ceremonial
produce an effect that a snug service in a well-lit church never would.
Last night we took Irais and Minora, and drove the three lonely
miles in a sleigh. It was pitch-dark, and blowing great guns.
We sat wrapped up to our eyes in furs, and as mute as a funeral procession.
We are going to the burial of our last year's <157> sins,"
said Irais, as we started; and there certainly was a funereal sort
of feeling in the air. Up in our gallery pew we tried to decipher
our chorales by the light of the spluttering tallow candles stuck in
holes in the woodwork, the flames wildly blown about by the draughts.
The wind banged against the windows in great gusts, screaming louder
than the organ, and threatening to blow out the agitated lights together.
The parson in his gloomy pulpit, surrounded by a framework of dusty
carved angels, took on an awful appearance of menacing Authority
as he raised his voice to make himself heard above the clatter.
Sitting there in the dark, I felt very small, and solitary, and defenceless,
alone in a great, big, black world. The church was as cold as a tomb;
some of the candles guttered and went out; the parson in his black robe spoke
of death and judgment; I thought I heard a child's voice screaming, and could
hardly believe it was only the wind, and felt uneasy and full of forebodings;
all my faith and philosophy deserted me, and I had a horrid feeling that I
should probably be well punished, though for what I had no precise idea.
If it had not been so dark, and if the wind had not howled so despairingly,
<158> I should have paid little attention to the threats issuing
from the pulpit; but, as it was, I fell to making good resolutions.
This is always a bad sign,--only those who break them make them;
and if you simply do as a matter of course that which is right as it comes,
any preparatory resolving to do so becomes completely superfluous.
I have for some years past left off making them on New Year's Eve,
and only the gale happening as it did reduced me to doing so last night;
for I have long since discovered that, though the year and the resolutions
may be new, I myself am not, and it is worse than useless putting new
wine into old bottles.
"But I am not an old bottle," said Irais indignantly, when I held
forth to her to the above effect a few hours later in the library,
restored to all my philosophy by the warmth and light, "and I find
my resolutions carry me very nicely into the spring. I revise them
at the end of each month, and strike out the unnecessary ones.
By the end of April they have been so severely revised that there
are none left."
"There, you see I am right; if you were not an old bottle your new
contents would gradually arrange themselves amiably as a part of you,
and <159> the practice of your resolutions would lose its bitterness
by becoming a habit."
She shook her head. "Such things never lose their bitterness," she said,
"and that is why I don't let them cling to me right into the summer.
When May comes, I give myself up to jollity with all the rest of the world,
and am too busy being happy to bother about anything I may have resolved
when the days were cold and dark."
"And that is just why I love you," I thought.
She often says what I feel.
"I wonder," she went on after a pause, "whether men
ever make resolutions?"
"I don't think they do. Only women indulge in such luxuries.
It is a nice sort of feeling, when you have nothing else to do,
giving way to endless grief and penitence, and steeping yourself to the eyes
in contrition; but it is silly. Why cry over things that are done?
Why do naughty things at all, if you are going to repent afterward?
Nobody is naughty unless they like being naughty; and nobody ever really
repents unless they are afraid they are going to be found out."
"By 'nobody' of course you mean women, said Irais.
"Naturally; the terms are synonymous. Besides, men generally
have the courage of their opinions."
"I hope you are listening, Miss Minora," said Irais in the amiably
polite tone she assumes whenever she speaks to that young person.
It was getting on towards midnight, and we were sitting
round the fire, waiting for the New Year, and sipping Glubwein,
prepared at a small table by the Man of Wrath. It was hot, and sweet,
and rather nasty, but it is proper to drink it on this one night,
so of course we did.
Minora does not like either Irais or myself. We very soon
discovered that, and laugh about it when we are alone together.
I can understand her disliking Irais, but she must be a perverse
creature not to like me. Irais has poked fun at her, and I have been,
I hope, very kind; yet we are bracketed together in her black books.
It is also apparent that she looks upon the Man of Wrath as an interesting
example of an ill-used and misunderstood husband, and she is disposed
to take him under her wing, and defend him on all occasions against us.
He never speaks to her; he is at all times a man of few words, but,
as far as Minora is concerned, he might have no tongue at all,
and sits sphinx-like and impenetrable while <161> she takes us to task
about some remark of a profane nature that we may have addressed to him.
One night, some days after her arrival, she developed a skittishness
of manner which has since disappeared, and tried to be playful with him;
but you might as well try to be playful with a graven image.
The wife of one of the servants had just produced a boy, the first
after a series of five daughters, and at dinner we drank the health
of all parties concerned, the Man of Wrath making the happy father drink
a glass off at one gulp, his heels well together in military fashion.
Minora thought the incident typical of German manners, and not only
made notes about it, but joined heartily in the health-drinking, and
afterward grew skittish.
She proposed, first of all, to teach us a dance called,
I think, the Washington Post, and which was, she said, much danced
in England; and, to induce us to learn, she played the tune
to us on the piano. We remained untouched by its beauties,
each buried in an easy-chair toasting our toes at the fire.
Amongst those toes were those of the Man of Wrath, who sat peaceably
reading a book and smoking. Minora volunteered to show us the steps,
and as we still did <162> not move, danced solitary behind our chairs.
Irais did not even turn her head to look, and I was the only one
amiable or polite enough to do so. Do I deserve to be placed
in Minora's list of disagreeable people side by side with Irais?
Certainly not. Yet I most surely am.
"It wants the music, of course," observed Minora breathlessly,
darting in and out between the chairs, apparently addressing me,
but glancing at the Man of Wrath.
No answer from anybody.
"It is such a pretty dance," she panted again, after a
few more gyrations.
"And is all the rage at home."
"Do let me teach you. Won't you try, Herr Sage?"
She went up to him and dropped him a little curtesy.
It is thus she always addresses him, entirely oblivious to the fact,
so patent to every one else, that he resents it.
"Oh come, put away that tiresome old book,"
she went on gaily, as he did not move; "I am certain it
is only some dry agricultural work that you just nod over.
Dancing is much better for you." <163>
Irais and I looked at one another quite frightened.
I am sure we both turned pale when the unhappy girl actually laid
hold forcibly of his book, and, with a playful little shriek,
ran away with it into the next room, hugging it to her bosom
and looking back roguishly over her shoulder at him as she ran.
There was an awful pause. We hardly dared raise our eyes.
Then the Mall of Wrath got up slowly, knocked the ashes off the end
of his cigar, looked at his watch, and went out at the opposite door
into his own rooms, where he stayed for the rest of the evening.
She has never, I must say, been skittish since.
"I hope you are listening, Miss Minora," said Irais,
"because this sort of conversation is likely to do you good."
"I always listen when people talk sensibly," replied Minora,
stirring her grog.
Irais glanced at her with slightly doubtful eyebrows.
"Do you agree with our hostess's description of women?"
she asked after a pause.
"As nobodies? No, of course I do not."
"Yet she is right. In the eye of the law we are literally
nobodies in our country. Did you know that women are forbidden
to go to political meetings here?" <164>
"Really?" Out came the note-book.
"The law expressly forbids the attendance at such meetings
of women, children, and idiots."
"Children and idiots--I understand that," said Minora; "but women--
and classed with children and idiots?"
"Classed with children and idiots," repeated Irais,
gravely nodding her head. "Did you know that the law forbids
females of any age to ride on the top of omnibuses or tramcars?"
"Do you know why?"
"I can't imagine."
"Because in going up and down the stairs those inside might perhaps
catch a glimpse of the stocking covering their ankles."
"Did you know that the morals of the German public are in such a shaky
condition that a glimpse of that sort would be fatal to them? "
"But I don't see how a stocking--"
"With stripes round it," said Irais.
"And darns in it," I added.
--could possibly be pernicious? "
"'The Pernicious Stocking; or, Thoughts on the Ethics of Petticoats,'"
said Irais. "Put <165> that down as the name of your next book on Germany."
"I never know," complained Minora, letting her note-book fall,
"whether you are in earnest or not."
"Don't you?" said Irais sweetly.
"Is it true," appealed Minora to the Man of Wrath,
busy with his lemons in the background, "that your law classes
women with children and idiots?"
"Certainly," he answered promptly, "and a very
proper classification, too."
We all looked blank. "That's rude," said I at last.
"Truth is always rude, my dear," he replied complacently.
Then he added, "If I were commissioned to draw up a new legal code,
and had previously enjoyed the privilege, as I have been doing lately,
of listening to the conversation of you three young ladies,
I should make precisely the same classification."
Even Minora was incensed at this.
"You are telling us in the most unvarnished manner that we
are idiots," said Irais.
"Idiots? No, no, by no means. But children,--nice little
agreeable children. I very much like <166> to hear you talk together.
It is all so young and fresh what you think and what you believe,
and not of the least consequence to any one.
"Not of the least consequence?" cried Minora.
"What we believe is of very great consequence indeed to us."
"Are you jeering at our beliefs?" inquired Irais sternly.
"Not for worlds. I would not on any account disturb
or change your pretty little beliefs. It is your chief charm
that you always believe every-thing. How desperate would our case
be if young ladies only believed facts, and never accepted another
person's assurance, but preferred the evidence of their own eyes!
They would have no illusions, and a woman without illusions is
the dreariest and most difficult thing to manage possible."
"Thing?" protested Irais.
The Man of Wrath, usually so silent, makes up for it
from time to time by holding forth at unnecessary length.
He took up his stand now with his back to the fire,
and a glass of Glubwein in his hand. Minora had hardly
heard his voice before, so quiet had he been since she came,
and sat with her pencil raised, ready to fix for <167> ever
the wisdom that should flow from his lips.
"What would become of poetry if women became so sensible
that they turned a deaf ear to the poetic platitudes of love?
That love does indulge in platitudes I suppose you will admit."
He looked at Irais.
"Yes, they all say exactly the same thing," she acknowledged.
"Who could murmur pretty speeches on the beauty of a common sacrifice,
if the listener's want of imagination was such as to enable her only
to distinguish one victim in the picture, and that one herself? "
Minora took that down word for word,--much good may it do her.
"Who would be brave enough to affirm that if refused
he will die, if his assurances merely elicit a recommendation
to diet himself, and take plenty of outdoor exercise?
Women are responsible for such lies, because they believe them.
Their amazing vanity makes them swallow flattery so gross
that it is an insult, and men will always be ready to tell
the precise number of lies that a woman is ready to listen to.
Who indulges more recklessly in glowing exaggerations than
<168> the lover who hopes, and has not yet obtained2 He will,
like the nightingale, sing with unceasing modulations,
display all his talent, untiringly repeat his sweetest notes,
until he has what he wants, when his song, like the nightingale's,
immediately ceases, never again to be heard."
"Take that down," murmured Irais aside to Minora--unnecessary advice,
for her pencil was scribbling as fast as it could.
"A woman's vanity is so immeasurable that, after having
had ninety-nine object-lessons in the difference between
promise and performance and the emptiness of pretty speeches,
the beginning of the hundredth will find her lending
the same willing and enchanted ear to the eloquence
of flattery as she did on the occasion of the first.
What can the exhortations of the strong-minded sister,
who has never had these experiences, do for such a woman?
It is useless to tell her she is man's victim, that she is
his plaything, that she is cheated, down-trodden, kept under,
laughed at, shabbily treated in every way--that is not a true
statement of the case. She is simply the victim of her own vanity,
and against that, against the belief in her own fascinations,
against the very <169> part of herself that gives all the colour
to her life, who shall expect a woman to take up arms?"
"Are you so vain, Elizabeth?" inquired Irais with a shocked face,
"and had you lent a willing ear to the blandishments of ninety-nine
before you reached your final destiny?"
"I am one of the sensible ones, I suppose," I replied,
"for nobody ever wanted me to listen to blandishments."
"I like to hear you talk together about the position of women,"
he went on, "and wonder when you will realise that they hold exactly
the position they are fitted for. As soon as they are fit to occupy a better,
no power on earth will be able to keep them out of it. Meanwhile, let me
warn you that, as things now are, only strong-minded women wish to see
you the equals of men, and the strong-minded are invariably plain.
The pretty ones would rather see men their slaves than their equals."
"You know," said Irais, frowning, "that I consider myself strong-minded."
"And never rise till lunch-time?"
Irais blushed. Although I don't approve of such conduct,
it is very convenient in more ways <170> than one;
I get through my housekeeping undisturbed, and whenever she
is disposed to lecture me, I begin about this habit of hers.
Her conscience must be terribly stricken on the point,
for she is by no means as a rule given to meekness.
"A woman without vanity would be unattackable," resumed the Man
of Wrath. "When a girl enters that downward path that leads to ruin,
she is led solely by her own vanity; for in these days of policemen
no young woman can be forced against her will from the path
of virtue, and the cries of the injured are never heard until
the destroyer begins to express his penitence for having destroyed.
If his passion could remain at white-heat and he could continue
to feed her ear with the protestations she loves, no principles
of piety or virtue would disturb the happiness of his companion;
for a mournful experience teaches that piety begins only where
passion ends, and that principles are strongest where temptations
are most rare."
"But what has all this to do with us?" I inquired severely.
"You were displeased at our law classing you as it does,
and I merely wish to justify it," he <171> answered.
"Creatures who habitually say yes to everything a man proposes,
when no one can oblige them to say it, and when it is so often fatal,
are plainly not responsible beings."
"I shall never say it to you again, my dear man," I said.
"And not only that fatal weakness," he continued,
"but what is there, candidly, to distinguish you from children?
You are older, but not wiser,--really not so wise,
for with years you lose the common sense you had as children.
Have you ever heard a group of women talking reasonably together? "
"Yes--we do!" Irais and I cried in a breath.
"It has interested me," went on the Man of Wrath, "in my idle moments,
to listen to their talk. It amused me to hear the malicious little
stories they told of their best friends who were absent, to note
the spiteful little digs they gave their best friends who were present,
to watch the utter incredulity with which they listened to the tale
of some other woman's conquests, the radiant good faith they displayed
in connection with their own, the instant collapse into boredom,
if some topic of so-called general interest, by some extraordinary chance,
were introduced." <172>
"You must have belonged to a particularly nice set," remarked Irais.
"And as for politics," he said, "I have never heard them
mentioned among women."
"Children and idiots are not interested in such things," I said.
"And we are much too frightened of being put in prison," said Irais.
"In prison?" echoed Minora.
"Don't you know," said Irais, turning to her "that if you talk
about such things here you run a great risk of being imprisoned?"
"But why? Because, though you yourself may have meant
nothing but what was innocent, your words may have suggested
something less innocent to the evil minds of your hearers;
and then the law steps in, and calls it dolus eventualis,
and everybody says how dreadful, and off you go to prison
and are punished as you deserve to be."
Minora looked mystified.
"That is not, however, your real reason for not discussing them,"
said the Man of Wrath; "they simply do not interest you.
Or it may be, that you do not consider your female friends'
opinions <173> worth listening to, for you certainly display an
astonishing thirst for information when male politicians are present.
I have seen a pretty young woman, hardly in her twenties, sitting a whole
evening drinking in the doubtful wisdom of an elderly political star,
with every appearance of eager interest. He was a bimetallic star,
and was giving her whole pamphletsful of information."
"She wanted to make up to him for some reason," said Irais, "and got
him to explain his hobby to her, and he was silly enough to be taken in.
Now which was the sillier in that case?"
She threw herself back in her chair and looked up defiantly,
beating her foot impatiently on the carpet.
"She wanted to be thought clever," said the Man of Wrath.
"What puzzled me," he went on musingly," was that she went
away apparently as serene and happy as when she came.
The explanation of the principles of bimetallism produce,
as a rule, a contrary effect."
"Why, she hadn't been listening," cried Irais, "and your simple
star had been making a fine goose of himself the whole evening.
"Prattle, prattle, simple star,
Though you're given to describe
Woman as a dummes Weib.
You yourself are sillier far,
Prattling, bimetallic star!"
"No doubt she had understood very little," said the Man of Wrath,
taking no notice of this effusion.
"And no doubt the gentleman hadn't understood much either."
Irais was plainly irritated.
"Your opinion of woman," said Minora in a very small voice,
"is not a high one. But, in the sick chamber, I suppose you agree
that no one could take her place? "
"If you are thinking of hospital-nurses," I said, "I must tell
you that I believe he married chiefly that he might have a wife
instead of a strange woman to nurse him when he is sick."
"But," said Minora, bewildered at the way her illusions were being
knocked about, "the sick-room is surely the very place of all others
in which a woman's gentleness and tact are most valuable."
"Gentleness and tact?" repeated the Man of Wrath.
"I have never met those qualities in the professional nurse.
According to my experience, she is a disagreeable person
who finds in private nursing exquisite opportunities for
asserting her superiority over ordinary and prostrate mankind.
I know of no more humiliating position for a man than to be
in bed having his feverish brow soothed by a sprucely-dressed
strange woman, bristling with starch and spotlessness.
He would give half his income for his clothes, and probably
the other half if she would leave him alone, and go away altogether.
He feels her superiority through every pore; he never before
realised how absolutely inferior he is; he is abjectly polite,
and contemptibly conciliatory; if a friend comes to see him,
he eagerly praises her in case she should be listening behind
the screen; he cannot call his soul his own, and, what is far
more intolerable, neither is he sure that his body really
belongs to him; he has read of ministering angels and the light
touch of a woman's hand, but the day on which he can ring
for his servant and put on his socks in private fills him
with the same sort of wildness of joy that he felt as a homesick
schoolboy at the end of his first term."
Minora was silent. Irais's foot was livelier than ever.
The Man of Wrath stood smiling blandly <176> down upon us.
You can't argue with a person so utterly convinced of his
infallibility that he won't even get angry with you;
so we sat round and said nothing.
"If," he went on, addressing Irais, who looked rebellious,
"you doubt the truth of my remarks, and still cling to the old poetic
notion of noble, self-sacrificing women tenderly helping the patient
over the rough places on the road to death or recovery, let me beg
you to try for yourself, next time any one in your house is ill,
whether the actual fact in any way corresponds to the picturesque belief.
The angel who is to alleviate our sufferings comes in such a
questionable shape, that to the unimaginative she appears merely
as an extremely self-confident young woman, wisely concerned first
of all in securing her personal comfort, much given to complaints
about her food and to helplessness where she should be helpful,
possessing an extraordinary capacity for fancying herself slighted,
or not regarded as the superior being she knows herself to be,
morbidly anxious lest the servants should, by some mistake, treat her
with offensive cordiality, pettish if the patient gives more trouble
than she had expected, intensely injured and disagreeable if he is made
so <177> courageous by his wretchedness as to wake her during the night--
an act of desperation of which I was guilty once, and once only.
Oh, these good women! What sane man wants to have to do with angels?
And especially do we object to having them about us when we are sick
and sorry, when we feel in every fibre what poor things we are,
and when all our fortitude is needed to enable us to bear our
temporary inferiority patiently, without being forced besides
to assume an attitude of eager and grovelling politeness towards
the angel in the house."
There was a pause.
"I didn't know you could talk so much, Sage," said Irais at length.
"What would you have women do, then?" asked Minora meekly.
Irais began to beat her foot up and down again,--what did it
matter what Men of Wrath would have us do? "There are not,"
continued Minora, blushing, "husbands enough for every one,
and the rest must do something."
"Certainly," replied the oracle. "Study the art of pleasing
by dress and manner as long as you are of an age to interest us,
and above all, let all women, pretty and plain, married and single,
<178> study the art of cookery. If you are an artist in the kitchen
you will always be esteemed."
I sat very still. Every German woman, even the wayward Irais,
has learned to cook; I seem to have been the only one who was
naughty and wouldn't.
"Only be careful," he went on, "in studying both arts,
never to forget the great truth that dinner precedes blandishments
and not blandishments dinner. A man must be made comfortable
before he will make love to you; and though it is true that if you
offered him a choice between Spickgans and kisses, he would say
he would take both, yet he would invariably begin with the Spickgans,
and allow the kisses to wait."
At this I got up, and Irais followed my example.
"Your cynicism is disgusting," I said icily.
"You two are always exceptions to anything I may say,"
he said, smiling amiably.
He stooped and kissed Irais's hand. She is inordinately vain
of her hands, and says her husband married her for their sake,
which I can quite believe. I am glad they are on her and not on Minora,
for if Minora had had them I should have been annoyed. Minora's are bony,
with <179> chilly-looking knuckles, ignored nails, and too much wrist.
I feel very well disposed towards her when my eye falls on them.
She put one forward now, evidently thinking it would be kissed too.
"Did you know," said Irais, seeing the movement, "that it is the custom
here to kiss women's hands?"
"But only married women's," I added, not desiring her to feel out of it,
"never young girls'."
She drew it in again. "It is a pretty custom," she said with a sigh;
and pensively inscribed it in her book.
January 15th.--The bills for my roses and bulbs and other last year's
horticultural indulgences were all on the table when I came down to breakfast
this morning. They rather frightened me. Gardening is expensive, I find,