"Is he—is he well?" I stammered.
She shook her head ominously.
"No. He is far from well. You did not realize, dear, what an effect that letter of yours would have upon him. It was a mortal blow."
I tried to speak, but I could not; my bosom rose and fell with quick little gasping breaths, as if I was suffocating.
"There was no particular illness," my friend continued, "just a general fading away, a slow discouragement. He had no interest in anything, and about a month ago Doctor Owen told me the poor fellow would not live long unless we could find you."
"Oh, if I had only known! If I had dreamed that he would care so—so much," I sobbed. "How—how did you find me?"
Seraphine answered with that far-away, mystic look in her eyes: "It was your mother, dear—she told me we must go to Lourdes, she said it quite distinctly, she said we must sail that very week, or it would be too late—and we did sail."
I stared at her with widening, frightened eyes.
"Seraphine! You don't mean that—that Christopher is—here?" I cried.
The clairvoyant bowed her head slowly.
"He is here, at the hotel, but he is very ill. He took cold on the ship and—it got worse. He has pneumonia."
"Oh!" I breathed. I could feel my lips go white.
"The doctor is with him now, and a trained nurse. I left them to search for you. I knew I should find you—somewhere."
I rose quickly and caught my companion's arm.
"Come! We must go to him."
"No! You cannot see him until tomorrow. This is the night of the crisis."
"Please!" I begged.
"No! You must wait here. I will send you word." Then she left me.
Hour after hour I waited at the hospice, knowing that Seraphine would keep her promise and send me some message. At about nine o'clock a little boy came with a note saying that I must come at once. Christopher was worse.
As we hurried through the square, the whole place was ablaze with lights, the church itself outlined fantastically in electric fires, while great crowds of chanting pilgrims moved in slow procession, each man or woman carrying a torch or lantern or shaded candle and all lifting their voices in that everlasting cry of faith and worship:
Ave, Ave, Ave, Maria! Ave, Ave, Ave, Maria!
Until the day of my death I shall hear that thunderous chorus sounding in my ears whenever memory turns back my thoughts to this fateful night.
Seraphine met me at the door of the chamber where Christopher lay, feverish and delirious. A French doctor, with pointed beard, watched by the patient gravely, while a sad-eyed nurse held his poor feet huddled in her arms in an effort to give them warmth. Already the life forces were departing from my beloved.
The doctor motioned me silently to a chair, but I came forward and sat on the bed, and bending over my dear one, I called to him fondly:
"Chris! It's Penelope! Oh, my dear, my dear! Don't you know me?" I pleaded.
But there was no answer, no recognition.
An hour passed, two hours and still there was no indication that my dear Christopher realized that I was near him, bending over him, praying for him. He turned uneasily in his fever and now and then cried out with a great effort in his delirium; but he never spoke my name or made any reference to his love for me. It was heartbreaking to be there beside him and yet to feel myself so far away from him.
At about eleven the doctor saw that a change was coming and warned me that there would be a lucid interval which would precede the final crisis.
"Within an hour we shall know what to expect," he said. "Either your friend will begin to improve—his heart action will be stronger, his breathing easier, or—he will sink into a state of coma and—" the doctor finished his sentence with an ominous gesture. "You must have courage, dear lady. The balance of his life may be turned by you—either way. It will be a shock for him to see you here, a great shock. I cannot tell how that shock may affect him. It may save him, it may destroy him. No man of science in my place would take the responsibility of saying to you that you must or must not show yourself to this man at this moment. You must take the responsibility for yourself—and for him."
"I understand, doctor," I said. "I will take the responsibility."
Again we waited in anguished silence, and soon the change came just as the doctor said it would. Christopher's eyes opened naturally and I saw that the glassy stare had gone out of them. He knew where he was, he knew what he was saying, he would recognize me, if he saw me; but I drew back into the shadows of the room where I could watch him without being seen. I wanted to think what I must do.
Christopher beckoned Seraphine and the doctor to come close to him.
"I want you to write something for me," he said in weak tones but quite distinctly to Seraphine. "I may not come out of this. I—I don't care very much whether I do or not, but—get some paper—please—and a pencil. The most important thing is about my money—all that I have—everything in the world, understand? I—I leave it all to the only woman I have ever loved—or ever could love—Penelope Wells."
When he had said this he settled back on the pillow and breathed heavily but with a certain sense of relief, as if his mind was now at rest. I bit my lip until my teeth cut into it to keep myself from crying out.
"You are both witnesses to this—to what I have said—you've written it down?" he looked at Seraphine and the doctor who nodded gravely.
"You must find Penelope and tell her that—that she made a mistake to go away. I understand why she did it, but it was a mistake. Tell her I said that we all of us have a whole lot to be sorry for and we must not only ask to be forgiven, but we must be glad to accept the forgiveness of others for—for whatever we have done that is wrong, and we must believe that they are sincere in forgiving us. Tell her that I would have been glad to—to forgive her for—for everything."
His strength was evidently failing and the doctor told him that he had better not try to talk any more. But Christopher smiled in that quaint brave way that I knew so well and lifted his thin white hands in protest.
"Just one thing more—please. It won't make any particular difference, doc, and I want to say it. I want you to be sure to tell her this—write it down. Tell her two things. One is that there isn't any argument about my loving her because I am dying for her—now—that's a fact. There isn't anything else I want to live for if I can't have Penelope. The other thing is that—" He paused as a violent spasm of coughing shook his wasted body, and again the doctor told him to be quiet, but he gave no heed.
"The other thing is—be sure to tell her this—that I would sooner have lived with Penelope—I don't care how many devils she was possessed with—than with all the saints in the calendar. I loved her—" He struggled to raise himself and then lifting his voice in a supreme effort, "I loved her good or bad. I—I couldn't help loving her. There—that's all. Let me sign it."
This was too much for me. As I saw my dear love tracing his name with painful strokes, I could control myself no longer and rushed out of the darkness to him, feeling that I must cry out wildly against his leaving me. I must fight the grim shadows that were enveloping him. I must keep him for myself by the fierce power of my love.
Just then a great glare from the torches filled the chamber and Christopher's eyes met mine. I stood speechless, choked with emotion, and as I tried to force my will against these obstacles of weakness, the cry of the pilgrims resounded from the streets below, a vast soul-stirring cry:
"Hosanna! hosanna au fils de David!"
At this I fell on my knees by the bedside and buried my face in my hands. I realized suddenly that it was not for me to dispute God's will even for this life that was so dear to me, even for our great love. Once more I must fight my selfish pride and yield everything into God's keeping for better or for worse. But with all my soul I prayed, not daring to look up: "Dear God, save him! Give him back to me."
Then I felt Christopher's hand on my head, resting there lovingly.
"Penelope!" he said.
Down in the street the lines of fire swept past in a molten sea while the roar of worshipping voices came up to me:
"Hosanna! hosanna au fils de David!"
And still I prayed, with my head buried in my arms: "Save him! Dear God, save him and give him back to me!"
And God did.
THE TRUTH ABOUT WOMEN THAT NOBODY TELLS
(Extracts from Penelope's Diary)
Two Years Later.
A woman who has been saved, as I have been, from a fate worse than death must be grateful, and ready to show her gratitude by helping others, especially other women. I have a message of hope for those who have heard the Voices, for those who have gone down into the Black Valley, where I was—they can come back into the sunshine of happiness. The powers of Light are stronger than the powers of Darkness, and Love conquers Fear always in those who cleanse their souls of evil.
And I have a warning for thousands and tens of thousands of women who have not yet glimpsed the Gates of Despair, but are drifting towards them and will surely pass through them, as I did, unless they understand the perils that surround and beset their lives.
With my husband's assistance and approval, I have selected from my diary parts that bear on the emotional problems of women today. Christopher says I have told the truth about women that nobody tells, and he wants me to make it known, so that others, being enlightened, may avoid the mistakes I made and be spared the consequences of these mistakes. Dear Chris! His judgment encourages me, and yet—
How fully shall I speak, so that my words may do good, not harm?
I can only have faith in my honesty of purpose, and hold to my belief that, in spite of my limitations, I have a message to deliver that will be helpful. Yes, I must deliver this message. God will not allow so sincere a motive to fail. Perhaps the reason for all my sufferings and mistakes, the reason for my existence was that I should deliver this message.
ARE CERTAIN WOMEN PREDESTINED TO UNHAPPINESS THROUGH THE INFLUENCE OF THE STARS?
Soon after my deliverance from evil, Seraphine cast my horoscope (I wonder why she never did this before?), and now much that was previously inexplicable in my life is made clear to me. She says that astrology is not a cheap form of trickery, but a recognized field of knowledge and investigation.
From the earliest times wise men have emphasized the influence of the stars upon human lives—for good or ill. I like to believe this. It gives one a broader and more charitable view of one's fellow creatures, of their sins and weaknesses, to realize the presence about us of these vast and mysterious forces.
My horoscope, with its queer phraseology, reads:
"Your Neptune is in evil aspect to your Venus, which makes you attract men almost irresistibly."
This was the case, Seraphine says, with Georges Sand, George Eliot and various women in history who were the favorites of kings, although some of them had little beauty. They were dowered, however, with this terrific magnetism for the opposite sex.
I remember, even as a school girl, how the boys used to fight over me, while they scarcely noticed prettier and brighter girls. I never understood this, any more than they did, for I was rather indifferent to them. There was one girl in our set who attracted the boys as much as I did, but she was also drawn to them. When this girl was about eighteen her father began to receive anonymous notes telling of his daughter's escapades and warning him to guard her more carefully. Finally there came an open scandal when the girl ran away with a married man. At the time I thought myself a better and stronger character than she, since I resisted temptation, but my horoscope shows that I had "in beneficent aspect" certain planets that were "evilly aspected" for my friend, and this made her temptations greater than mine.
Seraphine says that the horoscope, wisely used, is like an automobile light in the darkness—it reveals dangers in the road that may be avoided. "The stars incline, but do not compel," she always tells her clients and assures them that, by power of the will, we can overcome any influence of the stars, strengthening the good and weakening the evil aspects. That is a blessed thought.
When I was a trained nurse I received many confidences from women and some confessions of an intimate nature. At one time I took care of a married woman in Washington, a neurasthenic case, and this woman told me that she had several times tried to kill herself because of a curse that seemed to be hanging over her. Twice, following an irresistible impulse, she had left her husband with another man for whom she had no particular affection. It was a kind of recurrent madness which she did not understand except that she was positive that it had something to do with the phases of the moon. During about ten days of the month when the moon was "dark," she was perfectly normal, but when a new moon appeared she was conscious of a vague uneasiness that increased and finally became acute when the moon was full, this being her time of peril.
Venus in conjunction with Mars, Seraphine says, brings love at first sight, but in evil aspect to Mars it makes one liable to sex-excesses.
She says that a good Neptune in the 5th house, the house of Romance, or in the 7th house, the house of Marriage, brings an ideal and spiritual attachment; but in evil aspect in either of these houses it brings an immoral relationship or a marriage to one who is morally or physically deformed. This was the condition in my own horoscope and certainly poor Julian was deformed morally.
What a strange and fascinating light all this throws upon human behavior! How it clears up mysterious infatuations and explains incredible follies! Seraphine knows a woman of fifty—she is a grandmother and a most estimable person—who has always had and still has this power of attracting men violently to her. On one occasion this woman was in a railway station in New York, waiting for her son, when a fine looking man approached her and, lifting his hat, asked if she could direct him to the train that would soon leave for Chicago. She told him in her well-bred way, and he left her; but a few minutes later he returned and said with intense feeling that he had never believed in love at first sight, but now he did. He was compelled to believe in it now.
When she drew back he told her that he was a widower, a man of means, living in the West, that he could give her the best references and—the point was that his infatuation for her was so great that he begged her to consider whether she would be willing to marry him. He would do everything in his power to make her happy, but declared that he could not and would not try to live without her another day.
Knowing her horoscope the woman did not get angry at this presumption, but gently declined the offer, and begged the man to leave her. He bowed and withdrew, but came back once again after she had joined her son and explained to the astonished young man his hopes and aspirations toward the mother. Whereupon, as the woman still refused, he finally left, to all appearances broken-hearted.
I have had one experience of this sort myself that shows how even the noblest man may suddenly suffer an infatuation capable of sweeping him on to disaster. It was at the time of my husband's death—during days when he lay half conscious in the hospital following his automobile accident. A distinguished clergyman, Dr. B——, who had known Julian slightly, visited him here and in this way made my acquaintance. And he fell violently in love with me.
For months during my early widowhood he saw me almost every day and wrote me impassioned letters, declaring that I was the only woman in the world for him, I was his true mate, he could not live without me, he was ready to give up everything for me, to go away with me to some distant city—any city—and begin life all over again.
This clergyman was a man of fifty, a brilliant preacher, widely honored and loved, who had never in his life, he assured me, committed any deliberately sinful act such as this would be, for he was married to a fine woman who had been his faithful companion for many years and had borne him two children—two boys. All this he was ready to renounce for me—reputation, honor, duty. He said it was fate. His desire for me was too strong to be resisted. The sin, the disgrace, the pain that he would cause—none of these could keep back this man of God from his evil purpose.
ARE WOMEN DISLOYAL TO OTHER WOMEN?
In many pages of my diary (written sincerely at the time) I present the conventional view of sex offences, the comforting view to women.
When I search deep into my soul with an honest desire to find the truth, I am not sure that women are as blameless in the sex struggle with men as I would like to believe. Very often they are less pursued than pursuing. Every man of the world can recall the cases where women have played the role of temptress, using their charms against unwilling victims, notably husbands of other women. I am afraid the rule is that women are disloyal to other women where there is any serious emotional conflict.
The editor of a popular magazine told me once about a prize contest that they had for the best essay on a woman's sex solidarity union—they called it the W.S.S.U. The idea was that if women would stand together against men they could get anything in the world they wanted—equal rights and privileges, equal wages, fair treatment in every department of life; and do away with evils of ignorance and poverty, child labor evils, prostitution evils. We could have an ideal world if women, using their sex power, would only stand together against men.
Hundreds of letters were received from women, who thought this a wonderful idea; but they all agreed that it was impossible to carry it out, because women would never be loyal to one another.
That is true; I know it, and every woman knows it—women are disloyal to other women whenever it becomes a question of men. They might agree on a W.S.S.U. program, but they would never stick to it, poor things, because every blessed one of them who was at all good looking would be ready to go over to the opposition at the first favorable opportunity. Only the homely women would be loyal!
ARE WOMEN GREATER HYPOCRITES THAN MEN?
In all my troubles I kept at least to the form of religious belief, although I missed the substance, namely, that any life can be made happy, even glorious, if it is founded on purity of soul and unselfish love and service. I was selfish—even in my love; therefore I brought upon myself the fruits of selfishness which are ill health, inefficiency and unhappiness. The beauty of a selfish woman fades quickly.
Once I wrote this in my diary:
"Alas, how soon love passes! Ten or fifteen years and the best of it is gone. After that the dregs! A woman of thirty! Ugh! I shall be thirty next year. A woman of forty! No wrinkles at forty, says the beauty advertisement, but that is a lie. A woman of forty is a pitiful, tragic figure, especially if she is a little beautiful. No man wants her any more."
I was mistaken. The beauty of unselfish love never passes. There are sisters of charity whose faces are exquisitely beautiful at fifty. Seraphine is forty-five and her face shines with heavenly radiance. Her skin is as smooth as a girl's and free from lines because she thinks good thoughts and does kind acts. The greatest beauty tonic in the world is the habit of kindness.
In one place I find this:
"Women are naturally religious, especially women with a strong sex nature; they believe in God, in spiritual mysteries; they are deeply stirred by religious music and by the ritual of worship; they love the architectural impressiveness of a church, the stained glass windows far up among majestic arches, the candles, the incense, the far-away chanting.
"I was brought up an Episcopalian, but when I am tired or discouraged I often go into St. Patrick's Cathedral—it is so beautiful—and say my prayers there. At any hour I find others praying, men and women—they come in off Fifth Avenue quite naturally and cross themselves and bow to the Altar and kneel straight up—they don't just lean forward the way we do. I love to imitate them—cross myself and go down on one knee and dip my fingers in the font of Holy Water as I come away. Sometimes I wish I was a Catholic and could confess my sins. It might help me.
"I do not think religion keeps women back very much from doing what they want to do or have resolved to do in love affairs. It is a comfort, an emotional satisfaction rather than a restraint. They come tripping in on their high heels with all their smiles and finery, and they trip out again, unchanged in their sentimental natures. A woman will go to church in the afternoon and flirt with another woman's husband in the evening. She will respond devoutly after the Commandments 'Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law,' even though she knows that her heart is inclined to break one of these laws."
This is true in the main, although I believe now that women, because they are highly emotional, are sincere for the moment when they kneel down to say their prayers and confess their sins, even if they half know that they may continue in wrong-doing. I suppose women are less logical here than men who will often stay away from church entirely when they are breaking the moral law and when they know that they intend to go on breaking it. I am sure it is better, however, for men and women to go to church, even at the risk of a little hypocrisy, than not to go at all.
ARE WOMEN DISINGENUOUS IN SENTIMENTAL AFFAIRS?
I suppose we must admit that there are many women, in all classes of society—not mercenary women—who extend to men a certain measure of sex complaisance and feel no deep regret for this behavior, so long as things go well.
Once I wrote in my diary:
"Of course women will not admit sex indiscretions—wild horses could not drag the truth out of them. The attractive ones, those who have had emotional experiences with men, will hide them, following the feminine free masonry of centuries. And unattractive women will call high heaven to witness that nothing of that sort has ever happened to them. They have always found men respectful and considerate."
I asked Julian about this one day when he was in a penitential mood and he said:
"Of course you are right, the indiscretions of women are numerous, inevitable; but it is the fault of men. The evidence is all about us. Any woman may ascertain this from her husband, her father, her grandfather, or her great-grandfather, if she can persuade one of these gentlemen to be honest with her."
The ghastly truth is—this is the truth that has filled the world with tears—that the average full-blooded male citizen is polygamous in his instinct and to some extent in his practice.
Every reasonably attractive woman who has been called upon to face the facts of life knows that men are impelled towards women by a force of desire that they call over-powering. It is not over-powering, as thousands of clean-minded men have proved, it is no more over-powering than the desire to gamble or the desire to take drugs; it can be conquered as these other desires have been conquered; but centuries of wayward living under relaxed standards (the double standard) have made men believe that it is over-powering and they act accordingly. And women yield on one pretense or another, smilingly or tearfully—how can they resist the dominant will of half the human race?
I find this in my diary heavily underscored:
"How can the same act be a sin for half the race and not a sin for the other half? For centuries men have proclaimed that women must not give themselves to men, but men may give themselves to women. Is there any greater absurdity? Wine may mix with water, but water must not mix with wine."
If these sex-complaisant women were really filled with remorse, burdened with a sense of shame, we should all know it. Their eyes, their voices, their daily lives would reveal it. Could a million women be in physical pain, say from starvation, without all the world knowing it? Is pain of the soul less torturing than pain of the body? The fact is that these women are not in spiritual pain. They regard what they have done (often regretfully) as a result of impossible conditions in the world today, a world controlled by men.
I can speak about these things with a certain authority, since, for years, I sympathized with the self-indulgent point of view, in fact I lived in an artistic and Bohemian milieu where many of my friends followed the line of least resistance. I may even confess that I might have gone with the current, had I not seen the harm and unhappiness that resulted. It does not pay to be self-indulgent.
"LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION"
The suspicion that many women are disingenuous in regard to these irregularities of conduct was forced upon me some years ago in a conversation with Kendall Brown, who, for all his eccentricities, is a keen observer of life.
I give the conversation at some length just as I wrote it down in my diary:
"Kendall insists that women like me—he calls me a Class A woman which makes me furious for I'm afraid I am one—are never really on the level in sentimental affairs. If we were on the level, he says, we would not make such a fuss about the grand conspiracy of men against our virtue. There would be no point to it, for our virtue would never be in any danger unless we half-wished it to be. He says that the three great sins mentioned in the Bible and in all religions are killing, stealing and sex offences. Now, the attitude of the human race toward these sins, as established by centuries of habit, makes it almost impossible for the average citizen, man or woman, to either kill or steal. 'Isn't that true?' he asked.
"I agreed that the thought of stealing is so abhorrent to me that I could not imagine any temptation strong enough to make me a thief. I might have some reserves about killing, however, in fact I have once or twice felt a sympathy for ... well, no!
"'All right,' he went on. 'Now, if women were on the level in guarding their virtue and always had been, just as they are on the level in regard to stealing, don't you see that it would be utterly impossible for any man under any circumstances (barring violence which does not happen once in ten thousand times) to have his way with a woman? This habit of virtue would be so deeply ground into you women, into the very depth of your being, that nothing could overcome it. But as we look about us and observe women in all classes of society, we see that there is no such condition, no such habit, which proves that women are not and never have been on the level. What do you say to that, speaking as a pretty woman?'
"I did not say anything, I was so indignant—speechless—at his impertinence, and while I was searching for some answer to this outrageous statement, my poet friend proceeded:
"'You know how strong habits are, Penelope, all habits. Take smoking, or drinking cocktails, or even coffee. I swore off coffee six weeks ago. During the first week I was nearly crazy for it—had headaches, felt rotten, but I stuck it out. In the second week it was much easier for me not to take coffee. At the end of a month the habit was established and now I have no more craving for coffee. If I leave it alone for six months the chances are that nothing will ever make me drink coffee again, especially if I hypnotize myself with the idea that coffee is bad for my heart action, that I'm a nice little hero to have cut it out and that now I am going to live to be over ninety. You see?
"'Now then, the drift of all this is that the habit of virtue in women if it really was an on-the-level habit that they believed in with all their souls and would fight for with all their strength, would be utterly and absolutely unbreakable—no man could overcome it. The only reason why men in all times and in all lands have overcome women's virtue is because women themselves have never attached the importance to it that they pretend to attach. That isn't a very gallant speech, but it is true.'"
As I said, I became angry at Kendall's accusations and refused to continue the discussion, but if I were to answer the poet now, after my wider experience of life, especially after my sufferings, I should feel obliged to acknowledge that he struck a hard blow at feminine complacency. The trouble with women is that there is an increasing tendency among them, especially among those who live in cities full of pleasures and excitements, to compromise with evil, to go as near the danger line as possible, so long as they do not cross it. And this cowardly, dallying virtue is almost no virtue at all. There was a time when women prayed sincerely: "Lead us not into temptation"; now it seems as if they pray to be led into temptation, with just this reservation: that they may come out of it unscathed. Demi-vierges!
I have watched many attractive women treading the primrose path and I have seen that it always leads them to unhappiness. Not that they are disgraced or openly degraded—life goes on with many of them very much as before, but gradually their faces change, their souls change. They could have done so much better; they could have been useful, respected and self-respecting figures in the world through loving service. After all, life is very short and the only things that really matter are the things that happen in our own souls. No one can fail in life who does not fail inside, and no one can succeed in life who only succeeds outside. I learned that from Dr. Leroy.
IS PLATONIC FRIENDSHIP POSSIBLE TO AN ATTRACTIVE WOMAN?
In telling the truth about my life and my innermost feelings I must quote passages from my diary that were written in a light and often flippant spirit, that being my mood at the time; but the lesson is there just the same and in many instances tears follow close behind the laughter. Furthermore, I thank God that my regeneration has not taken away my sense of humor. One of the great troubles with neurasthenic women is that they do not laugh enough.
I wrote the following about a year after my husband's death:
"We women are irrational creatures. Our emotions control us, and these emotions change from day to day, from hour to hour. We never know how we will act under any given circumstances—that may depend upon some man."
The truth is that the attraction which draws a man and a woman together in what they call platonic friendship always has something of the physical in it—on one side or the other. Or on both sides. Women will not admit this, but it is true. They talk about the intellectual bond that joins them to a man—what a precious interchange of thoughts! Or the spiritual bond—such a soulful and inspiring companionship—nothing else, my dear! I used to talk that way myself about Jimsy Brooks before my husband died. He was my unchangeable rock of defense whenever the subject of platonic friendship came up. Other men might fail and falter, make fools of themselves, seek opportunities for—nonsense, but Jimsy was Old Reliability. I could tell him everything, even my troubles with Julian, I could trust him entirely. Alas!
One day I received this warning from Seraphine: "My beloved Penelope, you are riding for a fall! I have had you in mind constantly since you told me of your new friendship with Mr. R——. I know you intend to be truly platonic and I can see you smiling as you recall your many years' friendship with Jim Brooks to prove that such a thing is possible. But, my dear, take warning in time. While it has apparently worked out in that case, I am certain it is only the thought of losing 'even that that he has' which has prevented Jimsy from telling you of his love long ago. Your new playmate may cause you many heartaches before the game is played out. Think it over."
Dear old Seraphine! How well she knows the human soul! A month later I wrote this in my diary:
"Seraphine was right. My bubble has vanished into thin air. Jimsy Brooks has declared his love for me and a wonderful thing has gone out of my life forever. I had always felt so perfectly safe with Jimsy. When I think of the all-day picnics that we two used to go on together and the outrageous things I have done, I blush all over.
"I remember our trip to Bear Mountain and the sparkling stream that beckoned me into its depths. I wanted to wade in it, to sit on one of the smooth round stones in the middle and in general to behave like a child. All of which I did, for there was only Jimsy to see and he didn't matter in the least. He never so much as glanced at my bare feet and legs when I splashed through the ripples with my dress pinned up!
"I remember how I kissed his hand where a fish barb had torn it.... 'Kiss it, make it well,' and all the while I must have been hurting him cruelly. God knows I did not mean to, I would not have hurt him for the world.
"This sort of thing is all very well from a woman's angle, but is it well for a man? Jimsy says no, and when I remember the expression in his eyes, I am afraid I must agree with him. I had thought of him more as I would think of a girl chum, only infinitely more desirable, for he had the power of really doing things for me—he was a cross between a nice old friendly dog that would fetch and carry at my bidding and a powerful protector who could (and did) stand between me and unpleasant happenings.
"Jimsy has gone out of my life and left a terrible loneliness. He says that some day, when he has learned resignation, he will come back and we can take up the threads of our friendship just where we have laid them down ... but that can never be, you cannot build up a new friendship on the ashes of an old one. Poor Jim Brooks! I shall never forget what a wonderful thing he was in my life. And now that I have learned my lesson, my new platonic friend Mr. R—— can take his professed platonic friendship elsewhere. I am through, henceforth all men are acquaintances ... or lovers!"
* * * * *
As I look back on my life and try to draw wisdom from my mistakes, I see some things clearly and one is that it is impossible for a woman like me to enjoy the close friendship of an attractive man without danger. No matter how honorable he is or how sincere the woman is, there will be danger. The only case where there is no danger is where there is no physical attraction. I might have been safe enough with some anemic saint, but not with one who had pulsing red blood in his veins—certainly not!
* * * * *
Here is a characteristic episode written before I married Julian, during those months of hard struggle in New York:
"Last night Kendall Brown talked to me like an angel.
"'I'll give you a case in point, Pen,' he was saying. 'A beautiful woman like you, an exquisite, lithe creature is sitting on a sofa under a soft light, leaning against pillows—just as you are now; and a man like me, a poor adoring devil, a regular worm, is sitting at the other end of the sofa looking at this woman, drinking in her loveliness, thrilling to the mysterious lights in her eyes, the caressing tenderness of her voice and all the rest of it. This man wants to reach out and take this woman in his arms—draw her to him—press his lips to hers. But he doesn't do it, because—well, she wouldn't stand for it. Besides, it isn't right. Perhaps she is a married woman. Perhaps he is married.
"'Now what I want to know is why this chap can't behave himself and regard his fair friend as he would an exquisite rose in a garden—somebody else's garden. Why can't he say to himself: "This woman is one of God's loveliest creatures, but she does not belong to me. I can look at her, I can rejoice in her beauty, but I mustn't touch her or try to harm her." Why can't he say that to himself? Isn't it a wicked thing for a man to crush and bruise and destroy a lovely flower, to scatter its color and perfume just for a wayward impulse?'
"I shall never forget the earnestness, the tenderness in the eyes and voice of this harum scarum poet whose record in women conquests makes a rich chapter in the annals of Greenwich Village. At this moment he was quite sincere, or thought he was. There were tears in his eyes.
"And what did I do? I rose from my pillows and said, with a little laugh and toss of my head: 'Very pretty, Kendall, you ought to make a poem of it.' Then I went over to the victrola and set it going in a fox-trot, one of my favorites. I was restless and began to move about slowly to the music while Kendall watched me with a different light growing in his eyes. I wore a clinging white house garment—I suppose I was at my best.
"'Let's dance it, Pen, just gently so as not to disturb the folks downstairs,' he said. So we danced the fox-trot and my hair brushed against his cheek—he really dances very well for a poet.
"After he had gone I sat thinking of this for a long time, puzzled about myself and about Kendall. This afternoon I saw him again as I was passing through the Brevoort Cafe. He came up to me, smiling, and drew me aside.
"'Don't you see what a little faker you are, Pen?' he laughed. 'It's just as I said, you are none of you on the level, you pretty women. Why did you set that victrola going last night and tempt me to—to—yes you did, you know darn well you did. Why did you let your cheek brush against mine? Come, be honest, if you can. You're laughing, you adorable little devil—you expected me to kiss you.'
"'Impertinent!' I said. 'You do yourself too much honor, sir.'
"'I say you expected me to kiss you.'
"'Liar!' He wrinkled up his nose amusingly.
"I suppose I was a liar. I did expect Kendall Brown to—well—not to kiss me necessarily, but to make it perfectly clear that he wanted to. It was a ridiculous and unnecessary bit of posing on his part to act as if he did not want to. The French have a saying that a pretty woman always expects a suitor to know just when to be lacking in respect."
HOW SHALL A WOMAN SATISFY HER HEART'S LONELINESS?
I quote from my diary without comment another significant conversation that took place during the early months of my widowhood. How I resented, at this time, any suggestion that I was inclined to venture too near the sentimental danger line!
"Tonight I had a long talk with Kendall Brown on the same old subject—what is a woman to do who longs for the companionship of a man, but does not find it?
"Kendall always says disconcerting things, he is brutally frank; but I like to argue with him because I find him stimulating, and he does know a lot about life.
"'The trouble with women like you, Pen,' he said, 'is that you are not honest with yourselves. You pretend one thing and end by doing something quite different; then you say that you never intended to do this thing. Why can't you be consistent?'
"'Well, at least men know what they are going after, and when they have done a certain thing, they don't waste time regretting it or insisting that they meant to do something else.'
"'You think women are hypocrites?'
"'If women are hypocrites, if women are afraid to tell the truth about sentimental things, it is because you men have made them so,' I replied with feeling.
"Kendall answered good-naturedly that he held no brief for his own sex, he acknowledged that men treat women abominably—lie to them, abandon them, and so on; but he kept to his point that women create many of their troubles by drifting back and forth aimlessly on the changing tide of their emotions instead of establishing some definite goal for their lives.
"'Women yield to every sentimental impulse—that is why they weep so easily. Watch them at a murder trial—they weep for the victim, then they weep for the murderer. Half their tears are useless. If women would put into constructive thinking some of the vital power they waste in weeping and talking they could revolutionize the world.'
"'Could they reform the men?' I retorted, but when he tried to answer I stopped him. What was the use? I knew what he would say about this, and I really wanted to get his ideas on the other point.
"'Come back to the question,' I said. 'Take the case of a well-bred woman surrounded by stifling, conventional influences of family and friends, who sees lonely years slipping by while nothing comes that satisfies her womanhood. She may have money enough, comforts, even luxuries, but she longs for the companionship of a man. What is she to do?'
"He answered with his usual positiveness:
"'She must take the initiative. She must go after what she supremely wants, just as a man would, using her power—I assume that she is reasonably attractive. She must break through restraints, and drive ahead towards the particular kind of emotional happiness that suits her. That is what God created her for, to achieve by her own efforts this emotional happiness. If she wants it enough she can get it. We can all of us do anything, have anything on condition that we want it enough to pay the price for it. The price is usually the elimination of other things that interfere.'
"'Suppose a woman wants a husband? Suppose she is forty—and not rich? Do you mean to say she can get a husband?'
"Here my poet, blazing with conviction, leaned towards me, pointing an emphatic forefinger.
"'I tell you, Penelope Wells, it is possible for any reasonably attractive woman up to forty-five to get a reasonably satisfactory husband if she will work to get him as a man works to make money. She can't sit on a chair and twirl her thumbs and wait for a husband to drop into her lap out of the skies like a ripe plum. She must bend destiny to her purposes. She must make sacrifices, create opportunities, move about, use the intelligence that God has given her. The world is full of men who are half ready to marry—she must turn the balance!
"'Listen! If I were a lonely woman yearning for matrimony I would pick out one of these eligible males and make him my own. I would make him feel that the thing he wanted above all other things was to have me for his wife. How would I do this? I would study his desires, his needs, his weaknesses; I would make myself so necessary to him—as necessary as a mother is to a child—that he couldn't get along without me. I tell you it can be done, Pen, by the resistless power of the human will. The trouble with most of us is that we don't want things hard enough. If a woman wants a husband hard enough she will get him—nothing can prevent it!'
"I smiled at these fantastic views, although I admit, that we women ought to be more masters of our fates than we are. In my own case I suppose it would have been better if I had left Julian of my own volition, because it was right to leave him, instead of waiting for an automobile accident to separate us.
"'Please be sensible, Kendall,' I protested. 'Give me thoughts that apply to the world as it is, not extravagant fancies. You know perfectly well that there are thousands, tens of thousands, of fairly attractive women in all classes of society, especially in the wage earning class, who have no chance to marry the kind of man they wish to marry. Besides, there are a million more women than men in American. They can't all get husbands, can they? There aren't enough men to go around. And there are other thousands of wretched women tied to husbands who will not consent to a divorce. What are all these unhappy women to do?'
"'Can't they get along without men?' he laughed.
"'Can men get along without women?' I answered, rather annoyed. Kendall saw that I was serious and changed his tone.
"'Let me get this straight, Pen. If a woman longs for the companionship of a man—you mean the intimate companionship? You are not talking about platonic friendship?'
"'No, I mean the intimate companionship.'
"'And she cannot marry? Then what is she to do? Is that what you mean?'
"'Ah! Now we come to the heart of the discussion. You want to know if there are cases where self-respecting women enter into irregular love affairs and never regret it? Is it possible for a woman to break the moral law without suffering disastrous consequences? Are there cases where a girl or a woman yields to the desperate cry of her soul for a mate without degradation and without loss of her self-respect? Can such things be? Do you want my honest opinion?' The poet's eyes challenged me.
"'Yes, that is exactly what I want, I want the truth.'
"Whereupon Kendall Brown assured me that he has known a number of rather fine women, self-supporting and self-respecting, the kind of women who say their prayers at night and try to be kind, who, nevertheless, have had liaisons that have not resulted in shame and sorrow or in any moral or material disaster.
"'Are you sure of this? How can you be sure?'
"'Because I have talked frankly with these women. Sometimes I was in a position where I could, and, anyhow, women tell me things. They know it is my business to study life, to glimpse the heights and depths of human nature. I would be a poor poet if I couldn't do that.'
"'And these women told you that they have never felt regrets?'
"'Practically that—yes; several of them said that they would do the same thing over again if they had to relive their lives. They have been happier, more efficient in their work, they have had better health, calmer nerves, a more serene attitude towards life because of these love affairs.'
"'I don't believe it,' I declared. 'These women lied to you. They kept something back. The thing is wrong, abominable, and nothing can make it right or decent. I would rather die of loneliness.'
"I shall never forget Kendall's superior smile as he answered me:
"'Oh, the inconsistency of a woman! She will not marry, she will not have an affaire, yet she longs for the intimate companionship of a man. She wants to go swimming, but insists upon keeping away from the water.'
"I bit my lip in vexation of spirit.
"'Dear friend, don't be annoyed with me,' my poet continued with a quick change to gentleness. 'I didn't make the world or put these troublesome desires and inconsistencies into the hearts of women. Listen! I'll give you my best wisdom now: If a woman cannot marry and will not have a lover, then she must stop all stimulation of her emotions, she must put men out of her thoughts, out of her life and concentrate on something worth while that will not harm her. Let her take up the purely intellectual life, some cultural effort—history, art, municipal reform, anything, and absorb herself in it. Or let her follow the old path that has led thousands of women to peace of mind—let her seek the comforts of religion.' Then smiling, he added: 'You might become a missionary, Pen, in China or Armenia. I'll bet you'd be flirting with some mandarin or pasha before you got through.'
"Again I bit my lip, for I knew very well that the religious life would never satisfy me. If I entered a convent I should probably run away from it in despair. What a horrible situation to want to do right and long to do wrong at the same time!
"Kendall Brown must have read my thoughts.
"'There is one thing you self-pitying ladies must learn,' he went on, 'that is to play the game of life according to the rules. You can't have your cake and eat it. You can't amuse yourselves with fire without getting burned.'
"I was silent.
"'You must stop flirting with temptation—that's what you all do, you pretty women, fascinating women. You can't deny it.'
"'I do deny it,' I said weakly.
"'Oh come now! How about dancing—when a woman has a sinuous, clinging body and wears no corsets and—you know what I mean. Isn't that temptation?'
"'It's horrid of you, Kendall Brown, to suggest such things. Only a person with evil thoughts—'
"His eyes twinkled at me good-humoredly but I refused to be conciliated.
"'And how about the ancient and honorable practice of kissing?' he persisted. 'Of course it is not done any more, I realize that. No pretty woman in these austere days ever thinks of allowing a man to kiss her—except her husband, but—seriously, isn't kissing a temptation? Isn't it, Pen?'
"By this time my nerves were decidedly ruffled.
"'You are too foolish!' I stormed. 'I wish you would go home. I am tired of your ex-cathedra statements and your self-sufficiency.'
"'No,' he flung back, studying me with his keen gray eyes, 'you are tired of the truth.'"
CONCERNING THE DOUBLE STANDARD
With great diffidence I venture to say a word about the most perplexing and embarrassing question in the world:
Shall men be allowed to do certain things without any particular punishment or social condemnation, while women are punished mercilessly for doing these same things—things that men compel them to do?
The double standard!
Shall women try to change this standard, and, if so, in which direction—up or down?
Is it desirable that the weaker sex be given more liberty in emotional matters, or that the stronger sex be given less liberty?
I know that some distinguished women, great artists, stage favorites and others have succeeded brilliantly in spite of sex irregularities; but this proves nothing. These women succeeded because they had genius or talent, not because they were immoral, just as certain men of genius have succeeded in spite of an addiction to various evil practices. They would probably have achieved more splendid careers had they been able to conquer these weaknesses. Besides, we are considering what is best for the majority of men and women, not for an exceptional few.
I have a friend, a public school teacher in Chicago,—Miss Jessie G——, who holds advanced views on these matters and admits that she herself has been a sex transgressor. She has never been sordid or mercenary, she has always believed that she was actuated by sincere affection, but the fact remains that she has had several affairs with men. She has broken the moral law. And while she professes not to regret this and insists that she would repeat these affairs if she had to live her life over again, yet, I have felt in talking with her that this cannot possibly be true.
Miss G—— has fine instincts, is fond of music, is proud of her profession and shrinks from the thought that she might be considered declassee; at the same time she knows that on more than one occasion she has been treated coldly by men and women familiar with the facts of her life. For example, at summer hotels, in spite of her good looks and apparent respectability, she has been denied introductions to charming women who would disapprove of her behavior.
Even the bravest of our advanced women thinkers know in their hearts that they writhe under the pity or scorn of their sister women.
It is certain that a decent woman who enters into irregular relations with a man whom she loves must endure great distress of mind; her relations with this man are at best unsatisfactory. She accepts the disadvantages of wifehood and foregoes the advantages. She can see her adored one only with difficulty at uncertain times and places. She lives in constant fear of discovery. She is doomed to torturing loneliness for, in the nature of things, she cannot have her lover with her whenever she longs to have him, there must be days and weeks of the inevitable separation. Nor dare she write to him freely, lest the letters fall into wrong hands. In no way may she reveal her love, the proudest treasure in her life, but must hide it like a thing of shame.
"My poor child," I would say to such a woman, if I might, "remember that the hard test comes when things go wrong, when money fails, when beauty fades. Suppose your beloved falls ill. You cannot go to him, speak to him, minister to him on his bed of pain, though your heart is breaking. Even if he is dying, you can only wait ... wait in anguish of soul for some cold or covert message. You have no rights at his side that the family respect—his family. Who are you? Are you his wife? No! Then you are nothing, less than nothing; you are the temptress, the mistress! You love him? Bah! Can such a woman love?"
Miss G—— once acknowledged to me that while she has enjoyed the companionship of superior men whom she would never have known but for her moral laxity, yet she has paid a heavy price here, since she no longer values the acquaintance of men in her own sphere of life. From two such men (excellent, average men) she has received offers of marriage that she refused because their society no longer satisfied her after that of others more brilliant and highly placed; but she might easily have been happy with one of these two, had not her ideals been raised to a level beyond her legitimate attainment.
I might present other difficulties that must be faced by a woman who says she is tired of the old standards of virtue and will live her life as a man lives his, but I need not detail these difficulties. In her deepest soul every woman knows that the thought of a wayward existence is abhorrent to her better nature. She hates the double standard, she knows it has worked only evil in the world—it is a debasement of all that is noblest, a betrayal of all that is most beautiful. The double standard has done more harm to the human race than all the wars of history.
Women know this, but they are afraid to speak out, they are afraid to fight for their ideals, and passing years find men clinging to hideous sex privileges—one law of morality for men and another law for women.
I believe that American women could change all this, they could abolish the wicked double standard, as they have abolished saloons and houses of degradation, if they would face the facts of life instead of ignoring them. It is merely a matter of courage and organization. Suppose a hundred women in a single city should pledge themselves to bar from their homes and acquaintance notorious sex offenders—men offenders? And to question clean-minded men of their acquaintance, influential men, about these things and to get honest answers? And to have these answers openly discussed—perhaps in the churches? Why not? What are churches for except to fight evil?
What would the average man say to a woman whom he respected and trusted if she asked him to tell her, on his honor as a good citizen, whether he believes that the double standard is helpful or harmful to the women of America? Helpful or harmful to the children of America? To the manhood of America? Whether he is glad or sorry to think of the effects that his double-standard pleasures have had upon American women? Whether he would wish his sons to follow in his double-standard footsteps? Whether he would be willing to give up his double-standard privileges, if by so doing, he could save ten American women like his mother or his daughter from destruction? Would he be willing to do that? Will he give his pledge to do that?
Think how such a leaven of decency and clean manhood might spread throughout the land! It might start a single-standard revival that would sweep the world. By the power of courage and faith and the love of God!
SHALL A WIFE FORGIVE HER HUSBAND FOR UNFAITHFULNESS?
I have thought deeply about this, remembering what I suffered with Julian. It is terribly hard to tell the truth; a woman is filled with shame for herself and for her whole sex when she tries to tell the truth about the unfaithfulness of husbands.
How long shall a wife forgive? How much shall she deliberately ignore?
Many women say: "I would never forgive my husband if he deceived me." Others say: "I would never forgive my husband if I knew that he had deceived me." And still others say: "If my husband must deceive me, I hope he will never let me know it."
The tragic truth is (as all women vaguely suspect) that thousands of devoted husbands, hundreds of thousands of average husbands have at one time or another fallen from grace. Julian used to say that if all the men in America who have broken the seventh commandment were sent away to do penance on lonely mountain tops, we should run short of mountains.
He told me also that a man can love his wife so sincerely that he would gladly die for her, yet, in a moment of temptation, he may be untrue to her. Julian was an impossible person, but other clean-minded men, including my dear Christopher, have told me the same thing.
The truth is that most men have never learned to resist sex temptation; they grow up with the knowledge that they need not resist temptation, which is the fault of society, as now organized, the fault of wrong teaching, of insincere preaching, of nation-wide hypocrisy.
I have come to see that women, so long as they have not set themselves as a body against this evil system (which they might evidently change if they would act together) have no right to complain of its inevitable consequences. Men will abandon sex excesses, as they have abandoned drinking excesses, gradually, through education, through reasonable appeal, through the resistless force of public opinion intelligently aroused and directed by devoted women. And in no other way!
Meantime, it is the duty of individual wives to be merciful, as far as they can, towards erring husbands. The cure lies often in more love from the wife rather than in less love.
To any tortured wife who knows or half knows certain things about her husband, I say this—"Dear friend, as long as you love him, forgive him. As long as he loves you, forgive him. Be patient—enduring. Make the hard fight against sensuality with your husband, but don't let him know you are making it. Make this fight exactly as you would a similar fight against alcohol or drugs."
A woman must be on her guard, however, lest she hide under a cloak of forgiveness, some base motive in her own heart. Alas! I know, better than anyone, how easily we women can deceive ourselves.
There is an ignoble forgiveness that is based on love of material advantages—love of money. There are women who tolerate faithless husbands because they are too cowardly or indolent to fight the battle of life alone. What would they do if they left their sheltered homes? Who would provide comforts and luxuries? How would they dress themselves? How would they live? Shall it be by working? But they hate to work. They have never learned to work. It was partly as a defense against this woman helplessness that I took up trained nursing while Julian was still alive.
A still more degrading forgiveness is based on sensuality. There are women married to brutes of husbands who will endure every humiliation, surrendering all their fine ideals and high purposes rather than leave these coarse mates.
I first realized this just before I went abroad to nurse the soldiers. I had gone to the Adirondacks that summer for a rest, and one day on a motor trip I stopped for luncheon at a farm house, and there I recognized an old friend from my home town, Laura K——, who was to have had a brilliant musical career. It was she who had encouraged me to develop my voice; but I never could have been the great artist that Laura might have been. A famous impresario had judged her voice to be so fine—it was a glorious contralto—that he had offered to advance money for her musical studies abroad. He assured Laura that in three years she would be a blazing star on the grand opera stage.
That was the last I had heard of my old friend, and here suddenly I found her, married to a hulking mountaineer, half trapper, half guide. Here was my wonderful, burning-eyed Laura, who might have had the world at her feet, a farm drudge taking in summer boarders! How was this possible?
I spent the afternoon seeking an answer to this riddle. We walked out into the forest and talked for hours, but whenever I pressed for an explanation, she halted in confusion. Her mother was old and ill and—she did not wish to leave her. But, I pointed out, she had never spoken of this before, she had always cared supremely about her voice, about her great musical triumph that was to be. Was not that true? Yes, of course, but—the mountain air was so good for her mother. And she made other trivial excuses.
Finally, I got the truth as we were strolling home in the twilight and met her husband slouching along with a gun over his shoulder. As I caught his sullen, tawny glance and sensed his superb, muscular figure, I suddenly understood. He nodded curtly and passed on—this cave man!
"That was the reason, Laura, wasn't it?" I whispered.
She looked at me in silence, biting her lips, and blushed furiously.
"Yes," she confessed, "that was the reason."
IS IT A WOMAN'S DUTY TO TELL HER HUSBAND OF PAST TRANSGRESSIONS?
I am not sure what I really believe about this in my deepest soul. Thousands of women who long to do right will agree with me that it is a terribly difficult question to answer.
If this were an ideal world where men and women had been purified and spiritualized to a Christ-like loftiness of soul, one would say yes; but it is not. A loving wife does not wish her husband to confess to her his past transgressions, she takes him as he is and is happy to start a new life with him, turning over a clean page. She only asks that he be loyal and faithful in the future. And if she is ready to give him similar loyalty and faithfulness, if she has sincerely repented of any sinful act, is not that sufficient? Why must she risk the destruction of their happiness by a revelation that will do no good to anyone? Why must she give her husband needless pain?
While the vast majority of women will agree that such feminine reticence about past wrong-doing is justifiable, the truth, as I have come to see it, is that, in so agreeing, women must subscribe to a creed of deliberate deception. A man marries a woman whom he believes to be virtuous, a woman whom he might refuse to marry if he knew that she were not virtuous. And this woman does nothing to disabuse him of his error. Is that right? She allows her husband to keep a certain good opinion of her that is not justified. No matter how excellent her motive may be, the fact remains that this marriage rests upon an insecure foundation, upon an implied falsehood. Thousands of plays and stories have been constructed on this theme, and they usually end unhappily.
Suppose a man who had been in prison should marry a woman who was ignorant of this cloud on his life, trusting to chance that his criminal record would never be discovered? The two cases are somewhat parallel. What would the woman say if she learned later that she had unwittingly married an ex-convict? Would she not prefer that he had told her the truth before he married her?
On the other hand it may be argued that a woman's sin, being presumably the fault of some man, may be properly expiated, in part at least, by some other man. But that does not dispose of the difficulty that a woman who conceals past indiscretions from her husband is condemned to live a lie.
One deception almost invariably leads to another deception until a whole chain or net of equivocations, ruses, trickeries, is established with the hideous possibility of some shocking divorce scandal, possibly years later when innocent children may be the sufferers.
Even if such disaster is averted and the truth is never revealed, even if all goes well apparently through happy married years, yet the poison of deceit may work a spiritual disaster in this woman—such a disaster as overwhelmed me—or it may bring about a lowering of moral standards in a woman, a stifling of religious life, that will have sinister and far-reaching consequences.
The greatest need in the world today is the need of spirituality among women, for they are the teachers of the young.
As illustrating the frightful harm that may result from such a lack of spirituality in a woman, I quote from my diary the case of a great English lady whom I met while I was nursing in the battle region back of Verdun. She had come from London to be near her son, a magnificent soldier, the handsomest Englishman I have ever seen, who had been wounded in the Mesopotamian campaign and was now here for his convalescence.
"Lady Maude H—— G—— is a fascinating woman," I wrote. "She must have been a great beauty in her day, and she seems to be a figure in the rich, smart London set. She speaks quite casually of being invited to this or that palace for a chat and a cup of tea with one of the princesses or even with the Queen. During hours that she spent at the hospital she talked to me frankly and charmingly about many things connected with her boy and his future. She is worried lest some designing woman get him in her power, and one day she told me that she has arranged matters for Leonard so that he will be spared certain perils of this kind that might surround him in London. This excellent and brilliant mother has solved her son's problem—the sex problem—in the following extraordinary way, which proves, so she seems to think, her love and wisdom. She has arranged matters—goodness knows how—so that Leonard will be on excellent terms with two beautiful young matrons in her set and in this way he will not be vamped off by any unscrupulous chorus girl. These two beauties are to serve for the delectation of this young warrior until he can make a suitable marriage. What a commentary upon the morals and standards of high society!"
How can one explain such incredible baseness?
This woman is not an ignoble person. On the contrary she is kind and generous, full of the best intentions. She has simply reached a point in her selfish round of vanity and pleasure-seeking where she can no longer distinguish between right and wrong. Her soul is withered, starved, because it has been deprived of God's love and God's truth; yet the deterioration came gradually, no doubt, beginning with petty lies and compromises and evasions of responsibility. If she had any past transgression on her conscience it is certain she never told her husband about it.
It is a rule among women (with few exceptions) that idleness and uselessness make for selfishness and sensuality. Also for irreligion. These ultra mondaines think of God in an amiable, well-bred way—they approve of God, and they say their prayers in an amiable, well-bred way; but none of this avails to regenerate their lives or to combat the sensuality of their self-indulgent men. Nor does it save these women themselves from submitting to a social regime that is largely based on indulgence of the senses and the appetites. Il y en a, de ces femmes du monde, qui se conduisent d'une facon pire que les filles de joie.
* * * * *
As for myself I told my husband everything. I kept back nothing of my waywardness and sinfulness, my evil thoughts and desires. I admit that most men would not forgive a wife or a young bride who confessed to some sex transgression committed before her marriage. I also admit that the chances are against a husband's discovering such a transgression, if the wife keeps silent. It is apparently to the wife's advantage to keep silent; it apparently pays, in this case, to live a lie; but if deeper values are considered, if the sacredness of a woman's soul is taken into account, then a woman will see that she must confess, regardless of consequences. Alas, this is a very hard thing for the ordinary woman to do—the ordinary woman who is neither a saint on a stained glass window nor the heroine of a novel. But if she has the moral courage to confess her sin (knowing that life is given us for something else than temporary advantage), then, having cleansed her soul, she will be singularly blessed with peace of mind, and will be given strength to bear whatever comes, even loneliness. Besides, there are men who know how to forgive. God knows most of them have need enough to be forgiven themselves.
A WOMAN'S LITANY
(Written by Penelope Wells)
I dedicate to other women who may have done wrong, as I did, or who may be sorely tempted as I was, these thoughts that have comforted me—they have been like a consecration of my life. I have had them printed on vellum in a little red book no larger than a visiting card and so thin that I can slip it inside my glove. This is my talisman. I read these thoughts whenever I am wavering or discouraged, wherever I may be, in crowds or solitude, walking in the street, sitting in a car, and they always give me new heart and courage.
When I am weak or embittered, indolent, envious, I know that I can find strength through the performance of some loving act, however small. I can brighten the dullest sky with the sunshine of a little love. I know that sin and evil come chiefly from selfishness and sensuality. I can conquer selfishness by love. I can conquer sensuality by love. I can overcome all evil, all fear, all vanity, by love. There is no death, but the death of love. From which,
Dear Lord, deliver me.
I know that pride is the worship of self: but humility is the worship of God. Pride leads to discontent, but humility in loving service (no matter how obscure) gives peace of mind. From all forms of pride,
Dear Lord, deliver me.
I know that only harm can come to me from dwelling upon past mistakes, follies, sins. I cannot change these so I put them out of my thoughts and concentrate on the present, which is mine to do with as I please. From all vain regrets,
Dear Lord, deliver me.
I know that right living comes only from right thinking. To do right under stress of law or custom while desiring to do wrong is to make a mockery of virtue. I must sincerely desire to do right. The forces of life-control must act from within me, not from without. From all hypocrisy and false pretense,
Dear Lord, deliver me.
I know that a woman cannot be virtuous if she longs for sensuality, or dallies with it, or dwells upon it in her thoughts, even though she refrain from any sinful act. Nor can a married woman be a truly virtuous wife if she yields to perverse revellings of the imagination which defile body and soul—even with her husband! From all defilements of love,
Dear Lord, deliver me.