"And the fountain?" I demanded, "and all these doves!"
He said there had been talk of a fountain. He believed the design had already been prepared.
I took the next train back. I do not now travel much out of my way to see the original of the picture postcard. Maybe others have had like experience and the picture postcard as a guide to the Continent has lost its value.
The dealer has fallen back upon the eternal feminine. The postcard collector is confined to girls. Through the kindness of correspondents I possess myself some fifty to a hundred girls, or perhaps it would be more correct to say one girl in fifty to a hundred different hats. I have her in big hats, I have her in small hats, I have her in no hat at all. I have her smiling, and I have her looking as if she had lost her last sixpence. I have her overdressed, I have her decidedly underdressed, but she is much the same girl. Very young men cannot have too many of her, but myself I am getting tired of her. I suppose it is the result of growing old.
Why not the Eternal Male for a change?
Girls of my acquaintance are also beginning to grumble at her. I often think it hard on girls that the artist so neglects the eternal male. Why should there not be portraits of young men in different hats; young men in big hats, young men in little hats, young men smiling archly, young men looking noble. Girls don't want to decorate their rooms with pictures of other girls, they want rows of young men beaming down upon them.
But possibly I am sinning my mercies. A father hears what young men don't. The girl in real life is feeling it keenly: the impossible standard set for her by the popular artist.
"Real skirts don't hang like that," she grumbles, "it's not in the nature of skirts. You can't have feet that size. It isn't our fault, they are not made. Look at those waists! There would be no room to put anything?"
"Nature, in fashioning woman, has not yet crept up to the artistic ideal. The young man studies the picture on the postcard; on the coloured almanack given away at Christmas by the local grocer; on the advertisement of Jones' soap, and thinks with discontent of Polly Perkins, who in a natural way is as pretty a girl as can be looked for in this imperfect world. Thus it is that woman has had to take to shorthand and typewriting. Modern woman is being ruined by the artist.
How Women are ruined by Art.
Mr. Anstey tells a story of a young barber who fell in love with his own wax model. All day he dreamed of the impossible. She—the young lady of wax-like complexion, with her everlasting expression of dignity combined with amiability. No girl of his acquaintance could compete with her. If I remember rightly he died a bachelor, still dreaming of wax-like perfection. Perhaps it is as well we men are not handicapped to the same extent. If every hoarding, if every picture shop window, if every illustrated journal teemed with illustrations of the ideal young man in perfect fitting trousers that never bagged at the knees! Maybe it would result in our cooking our own breakfasts and making our own beds to the end of our lives.
The novelist and playwright, as it is, have made things difficult enough for us. In books and plays the young man makes love with a flow of language, a wealth of imagery, that must have taken him years to acquire. What does the novel-reading girl think, I wonder, when the real young man proposes to her! He has not called her anything in particular. Possibly he has got as far as suggesting she is a duck or a daisy, or hinting shyly that she is his bee or his honeysuckle: in his excitement he is not quite sure which. In the novel she has been reading the hero has likened the heroine to half the vegetable kingdom. Elementary astronomy has been exhausted in his attempt to describe to her the impression her appearance leaves on him. Bond Street has been sacked in his endeavour to get it clearly home to her what different parts of her are like—her eyes, her teeth, her heart, her hair, her ears. Delicacy alone prevents his extending the catalogue. A Fiji Island lover might possibly go further. We have not yet had the Fiji Island novel. By the time he is through with it she must have a somewhat confused notion of herself—a vague conviction that she is a sort of condensed South Kensington Museum.
Difficulty of living up to the Poster.
Poor Angelina must feel dissatisfied with the Edwin of real life. I am not sure that art and fiction have not made life more difficult for us than even it was intended to be. The view from the mountain top is less extensive than represented by the picture postcard. The play, I fear me, does not always come up to the poster. Polly Perkins is pretty enough as girls go; but oh for the young lady of the grocer's almanack! Poor dear John is very nice and loves us—so he tells us, in his stupid, halting way; but how can we respond when we remember how the man loved in the play! The "artist has fashioned his dream of delight," and the workaday world by comparison seems tame to us.
The Lady and the Problem.
She is a good woman, the Heroine of the Problem Play, but accidents will happen, and other people were to blame.
Perhaps that is really the Problem: who was responsible for the heroine's past? Was it her father? She does not say so—not in so many words. That is not her way. It is not for her, the silently-suffering victim of complicated antecedent incidents, to purchase justice for herself by pointing the finger of accusation against him who, whatever his faults may be, was once, at all events, her father. That one fact in his favour she can never forget. Indeed she would not if she could. That one asset, for whatever it may be worth by the time the Day of Judgment arrives, he shall retain. It shall not be taken from him. "After all he was my father." She admits it, with the accent on the "was." That he is so no longer, he has only himself to blame. His subsequent behaviour has apparently rendered it necessary for her to sever the relationship.
"I love you," she has probably said to him, paraphrasing Othello's speech to Cassio; "it is my duty, and—as by this time you must be aware—it is my keen if occasionally somewhat involved, sense of duty that is the cause of almost all our troubles in this play. You will always remain the object of what I cannot help feeling is misplaced affection on my part, mingled with contempt. But never more be relative of mine."
Certain it is that but for her father she would never have had a past. Failing anyone else on whom to lay the blame for whatever the lady may have done, we can generally fall back upon the father. He becomes our sheet-anchor, so to speak. There are plays in which at first sight it would almost appear there was nobody to blame—nobody, except the heroine herself. It all seems to happen just because she is no better than she ought to be: clearly, the father's fault! for ever having had a daughter no better than she ought to be. As the Heroine of a certain Problem Play once put it neatly and succinctly to the old man himself: "It is you parents that make us children what we are." She had him there. He had not a word to answer for himself, but went off centre, leaving his hat behind him.
Sometimes, however, the father is merely a "Scientist"—which in Stageland is another term for helpless imbecile. In Stageland, if a gentleman has not got to have much brain and you do not know what else to make of him, you let him be a scientist—and then, of course, he is only to blame in a minor degree. If he had not been a scientist—thinking more of his silly old stars or beetles than of his intricate daughter, he might have done something. The heroine does not say precisely what: perhaps have taken her up stairs now and again, while she was still young and susceptible of improvement, and have spanked some sense into her.
The Stage Hero who, for once, had Justice done to him.
I remember witnessing long ago, in a country barn, a highly moral play. It was a Problem Play, now I come to think of it. At least, that is, it would have been a Problem Play but that the party with the past happened in this case to be merely a male thing. Stage life presents no problems to the man. The hero of the Problem Play has not got to wonder what to do; he has got to wonder only what the heroine will do next. The hero—he was not exactly the hero; he would have been the hero had he not been hanged in the last act. But for that he was rather a nice young man, full of sentiment and not ashamed of it. From the scaffold he pleaded for leave to embrace his mother just once more before he died. It was a pretty idea. The hangman himself was touched. The necessary leave was granted him. He descended the steps and flung his arms round the sobbing old lady, and—bit off her nose. After that he told her why he had bitten off her nose. It appeared that when he was a boy, he had returned home one evening with a rabbit in his pocket. Instead of putting him across her knee, and working into him the eighth commandment, she had said nothing; but that it seemed to be a fairly useful sort of rabbit, and had sent him out into the garden to pick onions. If she had done her duty by him then, he would not have been now in his present most unsatisfactory position, and she would still have had her nose. The fathers and mothers in the audience applauded, but the children, scenting addition to precedent, looked glum.
Maybe it is something of this kind the heroine is hinting at. Perhaps the Problem has nothing to do with the heroine herself, but with the heroine's parents: what is the best way of bringing up a daughter who shows the slightest sign of developing a tendency towards a Past? Can it be done by kindness? And, if not, how much?
Occasionally the parents attempt to solve the Problem, so far as they are concerned, by dying young—shortly after the heroine's birth. No doubt they argue to themselves this is their only chance of avoiding future blame. But they do not get out of it so easily.
"Ah, if I had only had a mother—or even a father!" cries the heroine: one feels how mean it was of them to slip away as they did.
The fact remains, however, that they are dead. One despises them for dying, but beyond that it is difficult to hold them personally responsible for the heroine's subsequent misdeeds. The argument takes to itself new shape. Is it Fate that is to blame? The lady herself would seem to favour this suggestion. It has always been her fate, she explains, to bring suffering and misery upon those she loves. At first, according to her own account, she rebelled against this cruel Fate—possibly instigated thereto by the people unfortunate enough to be loved by her. But of late she has come to accept this strange destiny of hers with touching resignation. It grieves her, when she thinks of it, that she is unable to imbue those she loves with her own patient spirit. They seem to be a fretful little band.
Considered as a scapegoat, Fate, as compared with the father, has this advantage: it is always about: it cannot slip away and die before the real trouble begins: it cannot even plead a scientific head; it is there all the time. With care one can blame it for most everything. The vexing thing about it is, that it does not mind being blamed. One cannot make Fate feel small and mean. It affords no relief to our harrowed feelings to cry out indignantly to Fate: "look here, what you have done. Look at this sweet and well-proportioned lady, compelled to travel first- class, accompanied by an amount of luggage that must be a perpetual nightmare to her maid, from one fashionable European resort to another; forced to exist on a well-secured income of, apparently, five thousand a year, most of which has to go in clothes; beloved by only the best people in the play; talked about by everybody incessantly to the exclusion of everybody else—all the neighbours interested in her and in nobody else much; all the women envying her; all the men tumbling over one another after her—looks, in spite of all her worries, not a day older than twenty-three; and has discovered a dressmaker never yet known to have been an hour behind her promise! And all your fault, yours, Fate. Will nothing move you to shame?"
She has a way of mislaying her Husband.
It brings no satisfaction with it, speaking out one's mind to Fate. We want to see him before us, the thing of flesh and blood that has brought all this upon her. Was it that early husband—or rather the gentleman she thought was her husband. As a matter of fact, he was a husband. Only he did not happen to be hers. That naturally confused her. "Then who is my husband?" she seems to have said to herself; "I had a husband: I remember it distinctly."
"Difficult to know them apart from one another," says the lady with the past, "the way they dress them all alike nowadays. I suppose it does not really matter. They are much the same as one another when you get them home. Doesn't do to be too fussy."
She is a careless woman. She is always mislaying that early husband. And she has an unfortunate knack of finding him at the wrong moment. Perhaps that is the Problem: What is a lady to do with a husband for whom she has no further use? If she gives him away he is sure to come back, like the clever dog that is sent in a hamper to the other end of the kingdom, and three days afterwards is found gasping on the doorstep. If she leaves him in the middle of South Africa, with most of the heavy baggage and all the debts, she may reckon it a certainty that on her return from her next honeymoon he will be the first to greet her.
Her surprise at meeting him again is a little unreasonable. She seems to be under the impression that because she has forgotten him, he is for all practical purposes dead.
"Why I forgot all about him," she seems to be arguing to herself, "seven years ago at least. According to the laws of Nature there ought to be nothing left of him but just his bones."
She is indignant at finding he is still alive, and lets him know it—tells him he is a beast for turning up at his sister's party, and pleads to him for one last favour: that he will go away where neither she nor anybody else of any importance will ever see him or hear of him again. That's all she asks of him. If he make a point of it she will—though her costume is ill adapted to the exercise—go down upon her knees to ask it of him.
He brutally retorts that he doesn't know where to "get." The lady travels round a good deal and seems to be in most places. She accepts week-end invitations to the houses of his nearest relatives. She has married his first cousin, and is now getting up a bazaar with the help of his present wife. How he is to avoid her he does not quite see.
Perhaps, by the by, that is really the Problem: where is the early husband to disappear to? Even if every time he saw her coming he were to duck under the table, somebody would be sure to notice it and make remarks. Ought he to take himself out one dark night, tie a brick round his neck, and throw himself into a pond?
What is a Lady to do with a Husband when she has finished with him?
But men are so selfish. The idea does not even occur to him; and the lady herself is too generous to do more than just hint at it.
Maybe it is Society that is to blame. There comes a luminous moment when it is suddenly revealed to the Heroine of the Problem Play that it is Society that is at the bottom of this thing. She has felt all along there was something the matter. Why has she never thought of it before? Here all these years has she been going about blaming her poor old father; her mother for dying too soon; the remarkable circumstances attending her girlhood; that dear old stupid husband she thought was hers; and all the while the really culpable party has been existing unsuspected under her very nose. She clears away the furniture a bit, and tells Society exactly what she thinks of it—she is always good at that, telling people what she thinks of them. Other people's failings do not escape her, not for long. If Society would only step out for a moment, and look at itself with her eyes, something might be done. If Society, now that the thing has been pointed out to it, has still any lingering desire to live, let it look at her. This, that she is, Society has made her! Let Society have a walk round her, and then go home and reflect.
Could she—herself—have been to blame?
It lifts a load from us, fixing the blame on Society. There were periods in the play when we hardly knew what to think. The scientific father, the dead mother, the early husband! it was difficult to grasp the fact that they alone were to blame. One felt there was something to be said for even them. Ugly thoughts would cross our mind that perhaps the Heroine herself was not altogether irreproachable—that possibly there would have been less Problem, if, thinking a little less about her clothes, yearning a little less to do nothing all day long and be perfectly happy, she had pulled herself together, told herself that the world was not built exclusively for her, and settled down to the existence of an ordinary decent woman.
Looking at the thing all round, that is perhaps the best solution of the Problem: it is Society that is to blame. We had better keep to that.
Civilization and the Unemployed.
Where Civilization fails is in not providing men and women with sufficient work. In the Stone Age man was, one imagines, kept busy. When he was not looking for his dinner, or eating his dinner, or sleeping off the effects of his dinner, he was hard at work with a club, clearing the neighbourhood of what one doubts not he would have described as aliens. The healthy Palaeolithic man would have had a contempt for Cobden rivalling that of Mr. Chamberlain himself. He did not take the incursion of the foreigner "lying down." One pictures him in the mind's eye: unscientific, perhaps, but active to a degree difficult to conceive in these degenerate days. Now up a tree hurling cocoa-nuts, the next moment on the ground flinging roots and rocks. Both having tolerably hard heads, the argument would of necessity be long and heated. Phrases that have since come to be meaningless had, in those days, a real significance.
When a Palaeolithic politician claimed to have "crushed his critic," he meant that he had succeeded in dropping a tree or a ton of earth upon him. When it was said that one bright and intelligent member of that early sociology had "annihilated his opponent," that opponent's friends and relations took no further interest in him. It meant that he was actually annihilated. Bits of him might be found, but the most of him would be hopelessly scattered. When the adherents of any particular Cave Dweller remarked that their man was wiping the floor with his rival, it did not mean that he was talking himself red in the face to a bored audience of sixteen friends and a reporter. It meant that he was dragging that rival by the legs round the enclosure and making the place damp and untidy with him.
Early instances of "Dumping."
Maybe the Cave Dweller, finding nuts in his own neighbourhood growing scarce, would emigrate himself: for even in that age the politician was not always logical. Thus roles became reversed. The defender of his country became the alien, dumping himself where he was not wanted. The charm of those early political arguments lay in their simplicity. A child could have followed every point. There could never have been a moment's doubt, even among his own followers, as to what a Palaeolithic statesman really meant to convey. At the close of the contest the party who considered it had won the moral victory would be cleared away, or buried neatly on the spot, according to taste: and the discussion, until the arrival of the next generation, was voted closed.
All this must have been harassing, but it did serve to pass away the time. Civilization has brought into being a section of the community with little else to do but to amuse itself. For youth to play is natural; the young barbarian plays, the kitten plays, the colt gambols, the lamb skips. But man is the only animal that gambols and jumps and skips after it has reached maturity. Were we to meet an elderly bearded goat, springing about in the air and behaving, generally speaking, like a kid, we should say it had gone mad. Yet we throng in our thousands to watch elderly ladies and gentlemen jumping about after a ball, twisting themselves into strange shapes, rushing, racing, falling over one another; and present them with silver-backed hair-brushes and gold-handled umbrellas as a reward to them for doing so.
Imagine some scientific inhabitant of one of the larger fixed stars examining us through a magnifying-glass as we examine ants. Our amusements would puzzle him. The ball of all sorts and sizes, from the marble to the pushball, would lead to endless scientific argument.
"What is it? Why are these men and women always knocking it about, seizing it wherever and whenever they find it and worrying it?"
The observer from that fixed star would argue that the Ball must be some malignant creature of fiendish power, the great enemy of the human race. Watching our cricket-fields, our tennis-courts, our golf links, he would conclude that a certain section of mankind had been told off to do battle with the "Ball" on behalf of mankind in general.
"As a rule," so he would report, "it is a superior class of insect to which this special duty has been assigned. They are a friskier, gaudier species than their fellows.
Cricket, as viewed from the fixed Stars.
"For this one purpose they appear to be kept and fed. They do no other work, so far as I have been able to ascertain. Carefully selected and trained, their mission is to go about the world looking for Balls. Whenever they find a Ball they set to work to kill it. But the vitality of these Balls is extraordinary. There is a medium-sized, reddish species that, on an average, takes three days to kill. When one of these is discovered, specially trained champions are summoned from every corner of the country. They arrive in hot haste, eager for the battle, which takes place in the presence of the entire neighbourhood. The number of champions for some reason or another is limited to twenty-two. Each one seizing in turn a large piece of wood, rushes at the Ball as it flies along the ground, or through the air, and strikes at it with all his force. When, exhausted, he can strike no longer, he throws down his weapon and retires into a tent, where he is restored to strength by copious draughts of a drug the nature of which I have been unable to discover. Meanwhile, another has picked up the fallen weapon, and the contest is continued without a moment's interruption. The Ball makes frantic efforts to escape from its tormentors, but every time it is captured and flung back. So far as can be observed, it makes no attempt at retaliation, its only object being to get away; though, occasionally—whether by design or accident—it succeeds in inflicting injury upon one or other of its executioners, or more often upon one of the spectators, striking him either on the head or about the region of the waist, which, judging by results, would appear, from the Ball's point of view, to be the better selection. These small reddish Balls are quickened into life evidently by the heat of the sun; in the cold season they disappear, and their place is taken by a much larger Ball. This Ball the champions kill by striking it with their feet and with their heads. But sometimes they will attempt to suffocate it by falling on it, some dozen of them at a time.
"Another of these seemingly harmless enemies of the human race is a small white Ball of great cunning and resource. It frequents sandy districts by the sea coast and open spaces near the large towns. It is pursued with extraordinary animosity by a florid-faced insect of fierce aspect and rotundity of figure. The weapon he employs is a long stick loaded with metal. With one blow he will send the creature through the air sometimes to a distance of nearly a quarter of a mile; yet so vigorous is the constitution of these Balls that it will fall to earth apparently but little damaged. It is followed by the rotund man accompanied by a smaller insect carrying spare clubs. Though hampered by the prominent whiteness of its skin, the extreme smallness of this Ball often enables it to defy re-discovery, and at such times the fury of the little round man is terrible to contemplate. He dances round the spot where the ball has disappeared, making frenzied passes at the surrounding vegetation with his club, uttering the while the most savage and bloodcurdling growls. Occasionally striking at the small creature in fury, he will miss it altogether, and, having struck merely the air, will sit down heavily upon the ground, or, striking the solid earth, will shatter his own club. Then a curious thing takes place: all the other insects standing round place their right hand before their mouth, and, turning away their faces, shake their bodies to and fro, emitting a strange crackling sound. Whether this is to be regarded as a mere expression of their grief that the blow of their comrade should have miscarried, or whether one may assume it to be a ceremonious appeal to their gods for better luck next time, I have not as yet made up my mind. The striker, meanwhile, raises both arms, the hands tightly clenched, towards the heavens, and utters what is probably a prayer, prepared expressly for the occasion."
The Heir of all Ages. His Inheritance.
In similar manner he, the Celestial Observer, proceeds to describe our billiard matches, our tennis tournaments, our croquet parties. Maybe it never occurs to him that a large section of our race surrounded by Eternity, would devote its entire span of life to sheer killing of time. A middle-aged friend of mine, a cultured gentleman, a M.A. of Cambridge, assured me the other day that, notwithstanding all his experiences of life, the thing that still gave him the greatest satisfaction was the accomplishment of a successful drive to leg. Rather a quaint commentary on our civilization, is it not? "The singers have sung, and the builders have builded. The artists have fashioned their dreams of delight." The martyrs for thought and freedom have died their death; knowledge has sprung from the bones of ignorance; civilization for ten thousand years has battled with brutality to this result—that a specimen gentleman of the Twentieth Century, the heir of all the ages, finds his greatest joy in life the striking of a ball with a chunk of wood!
Human energy, human suffering, has been wasted. Such crown of happiness for a man might surely have been obtained earlier and at less cost. Was it intended? Are we on the right track? The child's play is wiser. The battered doll is a princess. Within the sand castle dwells an ogre. It is with imagination that he plays. His games have some relation to life. It is the man only who is content with this everlasting knocking about of a ball. The majority of mankind is doomed to labour so constant, so exhausting, that no opportunity is given it to cultivate its brain. Civilization has arranged that a small privileged minority shall alone enjoy that leisure necessary to the development of thought. And what is the answer of this leisured class? It is:
"We will do nothing for the world that feeds us, clothes us, keeps us in luxury. We will spend our whole existence knocking balls about, watching other people knocking balls about, arguing with one another as to the best means of knocking balls about."
Is it "Playing the Game?"
Is it—to use their own jargon—"playing the game?"
And the queer thing is this over-worked world, that stints itself to keep them in idleness, approves of the answer. "The flannelled fool," "The muddied oaf," is the pet of the people; their hero, their ideal.
But maybe all this is mere jealousy. Myself, I have never been clever at knocking balls about.
Patience and the Waiter.
The slowest waiter I know is the British railway refreshment-room waiter.
His very breathing—regular, harmonious, penetrating, instinct as it is with all the better attributes of a well-preserved grandfather's clock—conveys suggestion of dignity and peace. He is a huge, impressive person. There emanates from him an atmosphere of Lotusland. The otherwise unattractive refreshment-room becomes an oasis of repose amid the turmoil of a fretful world. All things conspire to aid him: the ancient joints, ranged side by side like corpses in a morgue, each one decently hidden under its white muslin shroud, whispering of death and decay; the dish of dead flies, thoughtfully placed in the centre of the table; the framed advertisements extolling the virtues of heavy beers and stouts, of weird champagnes, emanating from haunted-looking chateaux, situate—if one may judge from the illustration—in the midst of desert lands; the sleep-inviting buzz of the bluebottles.
The spirit of the place steals over you. On entering, with a quarter of an hour to spare, your idea was a cutlet and a glass of claret. In the face of the refreshment-room waiter, the notion appears frivolous, not to say un-English. You order cold beef and pickles, with a pint of bitter in a tankard. To win the British waiter's approval, you must always order beer in a tankard. The British waiter, in his ideals, is mediaeval. There is a Shakespearean touch about a tankard. A soapy potato will, of course, be added. Afterwards a ton of cheese and a basin of rabbit's food floating in water (the British salad) will be placed before you. You will work steadily through the whole, anticipating the somnolence that will subsequently fall upon you with a certain amount of satisfaction. It will serve to dispel the last lingering regret at the reflection that you will miss your appointment, and suffer thereby serious inconvenience if not positive loss. These things are of the world—the noisy, tiresome world you have left without.
To the English traveller, the foreign waiter in the earlier stages of his career is a burden and a trial. When he is complete—when he really can talk English I rejoice in him. When I object to him is when his English is worse than my French or German, and when he will, for his own educational purposes, insist, nevertheless, that the conversation shall be entirely in English. I would he came to me some other time. I would so much rather make it after dinner or, say, the next morning. I hate giving lessons during meal times.
Besides, to a man with feeble digestion, this sort of thing can lead to trouble. One waiter I met at an hotel in Dijon knew very little English—about as much as a poll parrot. The moment I entered the salle- a-manger he started to his feet.
"Ah! You English!" he cried.
"Well, what about us?" I answered. It was during the period of the Boer War. I took it he was about to denounce the English nation generally. I was looking for something to throw at him.
"You English—you Englishman, yes," he repeated.
And then I understood he had merely intended a question. I owned up that I was, and accused him in turn of being a Frenchman. He admitted it. Introductions, as it were, thus over, I thought I would order dinner. I ordered it in French. I am not bragging of my French, I never wanted to learn French. Even as a boy, it was more the idea of others than of myself. I learnt as little as possible. But I have learnt enough to live in places where they can't, or won't, speak anything else. Left to myself, I could have enjoyed a very satisfactory dinner. I was tired with a long day's journey, and hungry. They cook well at this hotel. I had been looking forward to my dinner for hours and hours. I had sat down in my imagination to a consomme bisque, sole au gratin, a poulet saute, and an omelette au fromage.
Waiterkind in the making.
It is wrong to let one's mind dwell upon carnal delights; I see that now. At the time I was mad about it. The fool would not even listen to me. He had got it into his garlic-sodden brain that all Englishmen live on beef, and nothing but beef. He swept aside all my suggestions as though they had been the prattlings of a foolish child.
"You haf nice biftek. Not at all done. Yes?"
"No, I don't," I answered. "I don't want what the cook of a French provincial hotel calls a biftek. I want something to eat. I want—" Apparently, he understood neither English nor French.
"Yes, yes," he interrupted cheerfully, "with pottitoes."
"With what?" I asked. I thought for the moment he was suggesting potted pigs' feet in the nearest English he could get to it.
"Pottito," he repeated; "boil pottito. Yes? And pell hell."
I felt like telling him to go there; I suppose he meant "pale ale." It took me about five minutes to get that beefsteak out of his head. By the time I had done it, I did not care what I had for dinner. I took pot-du- jour and veal. He added, on his own initiative, a thing that looked like a poultice. I did not try the taste of it. He explained it was "plum poodeen." I fancy he had made it himself.
This fellow is typical; you meet him everywhere abroad. He translates your bill into English for you, calls ten centimes a penny, calculates twelve francs to the pound, and presses a handful of sous affectionately upon you as change for a napoleon.
The cheating waiter is common to all countries, though in Italy and Belgium he flourishes, perhaps, more than elsewhere. But the British waiter, when detected, becomes surly—does not take it nicely. The foreign waiter is amiable about it—bears no malice. He is grieved, maybe, at your language, but that is because he is thinking of you—the possible effect of it upon your future. To try and stop you, he offers you another four sous. The story is told of a Frenchman who, not knowing the legal fare, adopted the plan of doling out pennies to a London cabman one at a time, continuing until the man looked satisfied. Myself, I doubt the story. From what I know of the London cabman, I can see him leaning down still, with out-stretched hand, the horse between the shafts long since dead, the cab chockfull of coppers, and yet no expression of satiety upon his face.
But the story would appear to have crossed the Channel, and to have commended itself to the foreign waiter—especially to the railway refreshment-room waiter. He doles out sous to the traveller, one at a time, with the air of a man who is giving away the savings of a lifetime. If, after five minutes or so, you still appear discontented he goes away quite suddenly. You think he has gone to open another chest of half-pence, but when a quarter of an hour has passed and he does not reappear, you inquire about him amongst the other waiters.
A gloom at once falls upon them. You have spoken of the very thing that has been troubling them. He used to be a waiter here once—one might almost say until quite recently. As to what has become of him—ah! there you have them. If in the course of their chequered career they ever come across him, they will mention to him that you are waiting for him. Meanwhile a stentorian-voiced official is shouting that your train is on the point of leaving. You console yourself with the reflection that it might have been more. It always might have been more; sometimes it is.
His Little Mistakes.
A waiter at the Gare du Nord, in Brussels, on one occasion pressed upon me a five-franc piece, a small Turkish coin the value of which was unknown to me, and remains so to this day, a distinctly bad two francs, and from a quarter of a pound to six ounces of centimes, as change for a twenty-franc note, after deducting the price of a cup of coffee. He put it down with the air of one subscribing to a charity. We looked at one another. I suppose I must have conveyed to him the impression of being discontented. He drew a purse from his pocket. The action suggested that, for the purpose of satisfying my inordinate demands, he would be compelled to draw upon his private resources; but it did not move me. Abstracting reluctantly a fifty-centime piece, he added it to the heap upon the table.
I suggested his taking a seat, as at this rate it seemed likely we should be doing business together for some time. I think he gathered I was not a fool. Hitherto he had been judging, I suppose, purely from appearances. But he was not in the least offended.
"Ah!" he cried, with a cheery laugh, "Monsieur comprend!" He swept the whole nonsense back into his bag and gave me the right change. I slipped my arm through his and insisted upon the pleasure of his society, until I had examined each and every coin. He went away chuckling, and told another waiter all about it. They both of them bowed to me as I went out, and wished me a pleasant journey. I left them still chuckling. A British waiter would have been sulky all the afternoon.
The waiter who insists upon mistaking you for the heir of all the Rothschilds used to cost me dear when I was younger. I find the best plan is to take him in hand at the beginning and disillusion him; sweep aside his talk of '84 Perrier Jouet, followed by a '79 Chateau Lafite, and ask him, as man to man, if he can conscientiously recommend the Saint Julien at two-and-six. After that he settles down to his work and talks sense.
The fatherly waiter is sometimes a comfort. You feel that he knows best. Your instinct is to address him as "Uncle." But you remember yourself in time. When you are dining a lady, however, and wish to appear important, he is apt to be in the way. It seems, somehow, to be his dinner. You have a sense almost of being de trop.
The greatest insult you can offer a waiter is to mistake him for your waiter. You think he is your waiter—there is the bald head, the black side-whiskers, the Roman nose. But your waiter had blue eyes, this man soft hazel. You had forgotten to notice the eyes. You bar his progress and ask him for the red pepper. The haughty contempt with which he regards you is painful to bear. It is as if you had insulted a lady. He appears to be saying the same thing:
"I think you have made a mistake. You are possibly confusing me with somebody else; I have not the honour of your acquaintance."
How to insult him.
I do not wish it to be understood that I am in the habit of insulting ladies, but occasionally I have made an innocent mistake, and have met with some such response. The wrong waiter conveys to me precisely the same feeling of humiliation.
"I will send your waiter to you," he answers. His tone implies that there are waiters and waiters; some may not mind what class of person they serve: others, though poor, have their self-respect. It is clear to you now why your waiter is keeping away from you; the man is ashamed of being your waiter. He is watching, probably, for an opportunity to approach you when nobody is looking. The other waiter finds him for you. He was hiding behind a screen.
"Table forty-two wants you," the other tells him. The tone of voice adds:
"If you like to encourage this class of customer that is your business; but don't ask me to have anything to do with him."
Even the waiter has his feelings.
The everlasting Newness of Woman.
An Oriental visitor was returning from our shores to his native land.
"Well," asked the youthful diplomatist who had been told off to show him round, as on the deck of the steamer they shook hands, "what do you now think of England?"
"Too much woman," answered the grave Orientalist, and descended to his cabin.
The young diplomatist returned to the shore thoughtful, and later in the day a few of us discussed the matter in a far-off, dimly-lighted corner of the club smoking-room.
Has the pendulum swung too far the other way? Could there be truth in our Oriental friend's terse commentary? The eternal feminine! The Western world has been handed over to her. The stranger from Mars or Jupiter would describe us as a hive of women, the sober-clad male being retained apparently on condition of its doing all the hard work and making itself generally useful. Formerly it was the man who wore the fine clothes who went to the shows. To-day it is the woman gorgeously clad for whom the shows are organized. The man dressed in a serviceable and unostentatious, not to say depressing, suit of black accompanies her for the purpose of carrying her cloak and calling her carriage. Among the working classes life, of necessity, remains primitive; the law of the cave is still, with slight modification, the law of the slum. But in upper and middle-class circles the man is now the woman's servant.
I remember being present while a mother of my acquaintance was instilling into the mind of her little son the advantages of being born a man. A little girl cousin was about to spend a week with him. It was impressed upon him that if she showed a liking for any of his toys, he was at once to give them up to her.
"But why, mamma?" he demanded, evidently surprised.
"Because, my dear, you are a little man."
Should she break them, he was not to smack her head or kick her—as his instinct might prompt him to do. He was just to say:
"Oh, it is of no consequence at all," and to look as if he meant it.
Doctor says she is not to be bothered.
She was always to choose the game—to have the biggest apple. There was much more of a similar nature. It was all because he was a little man and she was a little woman. At the end he looked up, puzzled:
"But don't she do anything, 'cos she's a little girl?"
It was explained to him that she didn't. By right of being born a little girl she was exempt from all duty.
Woman nowadays is not taking any duty. She objects to housekeeping; she calls it domestic slavery, and feels she was intended for higher things. What higher things she does not condescend to explain. One or two wives of my acquaintance have persuaded their husbands that these higher things are all-important. The home has been given up. In company with other strivers after higher things, they live now in dismal barracks differing but little from a glorified Bloomsbury lodging-house. But they call them "Mansions" or "Courts," and seem proud of the address. They are not bothered with servants—with housekeeping. The idea of the modern woman is that she is not to be bothered with anything. I remember the words with which one of these ladies announced her departure from her bothering home.
"Oh, well, I'm tired of trouble," she confided to another lady, "so I've made up my mind not to have any more of it."
Artemus Ward tells us of a man who had been in prison for twenty years. Suddenly a bright idea occurred to him; he opened the window and got out. Here have we poor, foolish mortals been imprisoned in this troublesome world for Lord knows how many millions of years. We have got so used to trouble we thought there was no help for it. We have told ourselves that "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards." We imagined the only thing to be done was to bear it philosophically. Why did not this bright young creature come along before—show us the way out. All we had to do was to give up the bothering home and the bothering servants, and go into a "Mansion" or a "Court."
It seems that you leave trouble outside—in charge of the hall-porter, one supposes. He ties it up for you as the Commissionaire of the Army and Navy Stores ties up your dog. If you want it again, you ask for it as you come out. Small wonder that the "Court" and "Mansion" are growing in popularity every day.
That "Higher Life."
They have nothing to do now all day long, these soaring wives of whom I am speaking. They would scorn to sew on a shirt-button even. Are there not other women—of an inferior breed—specially fashioned by Providence for the doing of such slavish tasks? They have no more bothers of any kind. They are free to lead the higher life. What I am waiting for is a glimpse of the higher life. One of them, it is true, has taken up the violin. Another of them is devoting her emancipation to poker work. A third is learning skirt-dancing. Are these the "higher things" for which women are claiming freedom from all duty? And, if so, is there not danger that the closing of our homes may lead to the crowding up of the world with too much higher things?
May there not, by the time all bothers have been removed from woman's path, be too many amateur violinists in the world, too many skirt-dancers, too much poker work? If not, what are they? these "higher things," for which so many women are demanding twenty-four hours a day leisure. I want to know.
One lady of my acquaintance is a Poor Law Guardian and secretary to a labour bureau. But then she runs a house with two servants, four children, and a husband, and appears to be so used to bothers that she would feel herself lost without them. You can do this kind of work apparently even when you are bothered with a home. It is the skirt-dancing and the poker work that cannot brook rivalry. The modern woman has begun to find children a nuisance; they interfere with her development. The mere man, who has written his poems, painted his pictures, composed his melodies, fashioned his philosophies, in the midst of life's troubles and bothers, grows nervous thinking what this new woman must be whose mind is so tremendous that the whole world must be shut up, so to speak, sent to do its business out of her sight and hearing, lest her attention should be distracted.
An optimistic friend of mine tells me not to worry myself; tells me that it is going to come out all right in the end. Woman just now, he contends, is passing through her college period. The school life of strict surveillance is for ever done with. She is now the young Freshwoman. The bothering lessons are over, the bothering schoolmaster she has said good-bye to. She has her latchkey and is "on her own." There are still some bothering rules about being in at twelve o'clock, and so many attendances each term at chapel. She is indignant. This interferes with her idea that life is to be one long orgie of self-indulgence, of pleasure. The college period will pass—is passing. Woman will go out into the world, take her place there, discover that bothers were not left behind in the old schoolhouse, will learn that life has duties, responsibilities, will take up her burden side by side with man, will accomplish her destiny.
Is there anything left for her to learn?
Meanwhile, however, she is having a good time—some people think too good a time. She wants the best of both. She demands the joys of independence together with freedom from all work—slavery she calls it. The servants are not to be allowed to bother her, the children are not to be allowed to bother her, her husband is not to be allowed to bother her. She is to be free to lead the higher life. My dear lady, we all want to lead the higher life. I don't want to write these articles. I want somebody else to bother about my rates and taxes, my children's boots, while I sit in an easy-chair and dream about the wonderful books I am going to write, if only a stupid public would let me. Tommy Smith of Brixton feels that he was intended for higher things. He does not want to be wasting his time in an office from nine to six adding up figures. His proper place in life is that of Prime Minister or Field Marshal: he feels it. Do you think the man has no yearning for higher things? Do you think we like the office, the shop, the factory? We ought to be writing poetry, painting pictures, the whole world admiring us. You seem to imagine your man goes off every morning to a sort of City picnic, has eight hours' fun—which he calls work—and then comes home to annoy you with chatter about dinner.
It is the old fable reversed; man said woman had nothing to do all day but to enjoy herself. Making a potato pie! What sort of work was that? Making a potato pie was a lark; anybody could make a potato pie.
So the woman said, "Try it," and took the man's spade and went out into the field, and left him at home to make that pie.
The man discovered that potato pies took a bit more making than he had reckoned—found that running the house and looking after the children was not quite the merry pastime he had argued. Man was a fool.
Now it is the woman who talks without thinking. How did she like hoeing the potato patch? Hard work, was it not, my dear lady? Made your back ache? It came on to rain and you got wet.
I don't see that it very much matters which of you hoes the potato patch, which of you makes the potato pie. Maybe the hoeing of the patch demands more muscle—is more suited to the man. Maybe the making of the pie may be more in your department. But, as I have said, I cannot see that this matter is of importance. The patch has to be hoed, the pie to be cooked; the one cannot do the both. Settle it between you, and, having settled it, agree to do each your own work free from this everlasting nagging.
I know, personally, three ladies who have exchanged the woman's work for the man's. One was deserted by her husband, and left with two young children. She hired a capable woman to look after the house, and joined a ladies' orchestra as pianist at two pounds a week. She now earns four, and works twelve hours a day. The husband of the second fell ill. She set him to write letters and run errands, which was light work that he could do, and started a dressmaker's business. The third was left a widow without means. She sent her three children to boarding-school, and opened a tea-room. I don't know how they talked before, but I know that they do not talk now as though earning the income was a sort of round game.
When they have tried it the other way round.
On the Continent they have gone deliberately to work, one would imagine, to reverse matters. Abroad woman is always where man ought to be, and man where most ladies would prefer to meet with women. The ladies garde- robe is superintended by a superannuated sergeant of artillery. When I want to curl my moustache, say, I have to make application to a superb golden-haired creature, who stands by and watches me with an interested smile. I would be much happier waited on by the superannuated sergeant, and my wife tells me she could very well spare him. But it is the law of the land. I remember the first time I travelled with my daughter on the Continent. In the morning I was awakened by a piercing scream from her room. I struggled into my pyjamas, and rushed to her assistance. I could not see her. I could see nothing but a muscular-looking man in a blue blouse with a can of hot water in one hand and a pair of boots in the other. He appeared to be equally bewildered with myself at the sight of the empty bed. From a cupboard in the corner came a wail of distress:
"Oh, do send that horrid man away. What's he doing in my room?"
I explained to her afterwards that the chambermaid abroad is always an active and willing young man. The foreign girl fills in her time bricklaying and grooming down the horses. It is a young and charming lady who serves you when you enter the tobacconist's. She doesn't understand tobacco, is unsympathetic; with Mr. Frederic Harrison, regards smoking as a degrading and unclean habit; cannot see, herself, any difference between shag and Mayblossom, seeing that they are both the same price; thinks you fussy. The corset shop is run by a most presentable young man in a Vandyck beard. The wife runs the restaurant; the man does the cooking, and yet the woman has not reached freedom from bother.
A brutal suggestion.
It sounds brutal, but perhaps woman was not intended to live free from all bothers. Perhaps even the higher life—the skirt-dancing and the poker work—has its bothers. Perhaps woman was intended to take her share of the world's work—of the world's bothers.
Why I hate Heroes.
When I was younger, reading the popular novel used to make me sad. I find it vexes others also. I was talking to a bright young girl upon the subject not so very long ago.
"I just hate the girl in the novel," she confessed. "She makes me feel real bad. If I don't think of her I feel pleased with myself, and good; but when I read about her—well, I'm crazy. I would not mind her being smart, sometimes. We can all of us say the right thing, now and then. This girl says them straight away, all the time. She don't have to dig for them even; they come crowding out of her. There never happens a time when she stands there feeling like a fool and knowing that she looks it. As for her hair: 'pon my word, there are days when I believe it is a wig. I'd like to get behind her and give it just one pull. It curls of its own accord. She don't seem to have any trouble with it. Look at this mop of mine. I've been working at it for three-quarters of an hour this morning; and now I would not laugh, not if you were to tell me the funniest thing, you'd ever heard, for fear it would come down again. As for her clothes, they make me tired. She don't possess a frock that does not fit her to perfection; she doesn't have to think about them. You would imagine she went into the garden and picked them off a tree. She just slips it on and comes down, and then—my stars! All the other women in the room may just as well go to bed and get a good night's rest for all the chance they've got. It isn't that she's beautiful. From what they tell you about her, you might fancy her a freak. Looks don't appear to matter to her; she gets there anyhow. I tell you she just makes me boil."
Allowing for the difference between the masculine and feminine outlook, this is precisely how I used to feel when reading of the hero. He was not always good; sometimes he hit the villain harder than he had intended, and then he was sorry—when it was too late, blamed himself severely, and subscribed towards the wreath. Like the rest of us, he made mistakes; occasionally married the wrong girl. But how well he did everything!—does still for the matter of that, I believe. Take it that he condescends to play cricket! He never scores less than a hundred—does not know how to score less than a hundred, wonders how it could be done, supposing, for example, you had an appointment and wanted to catch an early train. I used to play cricket myself, but I could always stop at ten or twenty. There have been times when I have stopped at even less.
It is the same with everything he puts his hand to. Either he does not care for boating at all, or, as a matter of course, he pulls stroke in the University Boat-race; and then takes the train on to Henley and wins the Diamond Sculls so easily that it hardly seems worth while for the other fellow to have started. Were I living in Novel-land, and had I entered for the Diamond Sculls, I should put it to my opponent before the word was given to us to go.
"One minute!" I should have called out to him. "Are you the hero of this novel, or, like myself, only one of the minor characters? Because, if you are the hero you go on; don't you wait for me. I shall just pull as far as the boathouse and get myself a cup of tea."
Because it always seems to be his Day.
There is no sense of happy medium about the hero of the popular novel. He cannot get astride a horse without its going off and winning a steeplechase against the favourite. The crowd in Novel-land appears to have no power of observation. It worries itself about the odds, discusses records, reads the nonsense published by the sporting papers. Were I to find myself on a racecourse in Novel-land I should not trouble about the unessential; I should go up to the bookie who looked as if he had the most money, and should say to him:
"Don't shout so loud; you are making yourself hoarse. Just listen to me. Who's the hero of this novel? Oh, that's he, is it? The heavy-looking man on the little brown horse that keeps coughing and is suffering apparently from bone spavin? Well, what are the odds against his winning by ten lengths? A thousand to one! Very well! Have you got a bag?—Good. Here's twenty-seven pounds in gold and eighteen shillings in silver. Coat and waistcoat, say another ten shillings. Shirt and trousers—it's all right, I've got my pyjamas on underneath—say seven and six. Boots—we won't quarrel—make it five bob. That's twenty-nine pounds and sixpence, isn't it? In addition here's a mortgage on the family estate, which I've had made out in blank, an I O U for fourteen pounds which has been owing to me now for some time, and this bundle of securities which, strictly speaking, belong to my Aunt Jane. You keep that little lot till after the race, and we will call it in round figures, five hundred pounds."
That single afternoon would thus bring me in five hundred thousand pounds—provided the bookie did not blow his brains out.
Backers in Novel-land do not seem to me to know their way about. If the hero of the popular novel swims at all, it is not like an ordinary human being that he does it. You never meet him in a swimming-bath; he never pays ninepence, like the rest of us, for a machine. He goes out at uncanny hours, generally accompanied by a lady friend, with whom the while swimming he talks poetry and cracks jokes. Some of us, when we try to talk in the sea, fill ourselves up with salt water. This chap lies on his back and carols, and the wild waves, seeing him, go round the other way. At billiards he can give the average sharper forty in a hundred. He does not really want to play; he does it to teach these bad men a lesson. He has not handled a cue for years. He picked up the game when a young man in Australia, and it seems to have lingered with him.
He does not have to get up early and worry dumb-bells in his nightshirt; he just lies on a sofa in an elegant attitude and muscle comes to him. If his horse declines to jump a hedge, he slips down off the animal's back and throws the poor thing over; it saves argument. If he gets cross and puts his shoulder to the massive oaken door, we know there is going to be work next morning for the carpenter. Maybe he is a party belonging to the Middle Ages. Then when he reluctantly challenges the crack fencer of Europe to a duel, our instinct is to call out and warn his opponent.
"You silly fool," one feels one wants to say; "why, it is the hero of the novel! You take a friend's advice while you are still alive, and get out of it anyway—anyhow. Apologize—hire a horse and cart, do something. You're not going to fight a duel, you're going to commit suicide."
If the hero is a modern young man, and has not got a father, or has only something not worth calling a father, then he comes across a library—anybody's library does for him. He passes Sir Walter Scott and the "Arabian Nights," and makes a bee-line for Plato; it seems to be an instinct with him. By help of a dictionary he worries it out in the original Greek. This gives him a passion for Greek.
When he has romped through the Greek classics he plays about among the Latins. He spends most of his spare time in that library, and forgets to go to tea.
Because he always "gets there," without any trouble.
That is the sort of boy he is. How I used to hate him! If he has a proper sort of father, then he goes to college. He does no work: there is no need for him to work: everything seems to come to him. That was another grievance of mine against him. I always had to work a good deal, and very little came of it. He fools around doing things that other men would be sent down for; but in his case the professors love him for it all the more. He is the sort of man who can't do wrong. A fortnight before the examination he ties a wet towel round his head. That is all we hear about it. It seems to be the towel that does it. Maybe, if the towel is not quite up to its work, he will help things on by drinking gallons of strong tea. The tea and the towel combined are irresistible: the result is always the senior wranglership.
I used to believe in that wet towel and that strong tea. Lord! the things I used to believe when I was young. They would make an Encyclopaedia of Useless Knowledge. I wonder if the author of the popular novel has ever tried working with a wet towel round his or her head: I have. It is difficult enough to move a yard, balancing a dry towel. A heathen Turk may have it in his blood to do so: the ordinary Christian has not got the trick of it. To carry about a wet towel twisted round one's head needs a trained acrobat. Every few minutes the wretched thing works loose. In darkness and in misery, you struggle to get your head out of a clammy towel that clings to you almost with passion. Brain power is wasted in inventing names for that towel—names expressive of your feelings with regard to it. Further time is taken up before the glass, fixing the thing afresh.
You return to your books in the wrong temper, the water trickles down your nose, runs in rivulets down your back. Until you have finally flung the towel out of the window and rubbed yourself dry, work is impossible. The strong tea always gave me indigestion, and made me sleepy. Until I had got over the effects of the tea, attempts at study were useless.
Because he's so damned clever.
But the thing that still irritates me most against the hero of the popular novel is the ease with which he learns a modern foreign language. Were he a German waiter, a Swiss barber, or a Polish photographer, I would not envy him; these people do not have to learn a language. My idea is that they boil down a dictionary, and take two table-spoonsful each night before going to bed. By the time the bottle is finished they have the language well into their system. But he is not. He is just an ordinary Anglo-Saxon, and I don't believe in him. I walk about for years with dictionaries in my pocket. Weird-looking ladies and gentlemen gesticulate and rave at me for months. I hide myself in lonely places, repeating idioms to myself out loud, in the hope that by this means they will come readily to me if ever I want them, which I never do. And, after all this, I don't seem to know very much. This irritating ass, who has never left his native suburb, suddenly makes up his mind to travel on the Continent. I find him in the next chapter engaged in complicated psychological argument with French or German savants. It appears—the author had forgotten to mention it before—that one summer a French, or German, or Italian refugee, as the case may happen to be, came to live in the hero's street: thus it is that the hero is able to talk fluently in the native language of that unhappy refugee.
I remember a melodrama visiting a country town where I was staying. The heroine and child were sleeping peacefully in the customary attic. For some reason not quite clear to me, the villain had set fire to the house. He had been complaining through the three preceding acts of the heroine's coldness; maybe it was with some idea of warming her. Escape by way of the staircase was impossible. Each time the poor girl opened the door a flame came in and nearly burned her hair off. It seemed to have been waiting for her.
"Thank God!" said the lady, hastily wrapping the child in a sheet, "that I was brought up a wire walker."
Without a moment's hesitation she opened the attic window and took the nearest telegraph wire to the opposite side of the street.
In the same way, apparently, the hero of the popular novel, finding himself stranded in a foreign land, suddenly recollects that once upon a time he met a refugee, and at once begins to talk. I have met refugees myself. The only thing they have ever taught me is not to leave my brandy flask about.
And, finally, because I don't believe he's true.
I don't believe in these heroes and heroines that cannot keep quiet in a foreign language they have taught themselves in an old-world library. My fixed idea is that they muddle along like the rest of us, surprised that so few people understand them, begging everyone they meet not to talk so quickly. These brilliant conversations with foreign philosophers! These passionate interviews with foreign countesses! They fancy they have had them.
I crossed once with an English lady from Boulogne to Folkestone. At Folkestone a little French girl—anxious about her train—asked us a simple question. My companion replied to it with an ease that astonished herself. The little French girl vanished; my companion sighed.
"It's so odd," said my companion, "but I seem to know quite a lot of French the moment I get back to England."
How to be Healthy and Unhappy.
"They do say," remarked Mrs. Wilkins, as she took the cover off the dish and gave a finishing polish to my plate with the cleanest corner of her apron, "that 'addicks, leastways in May, ain't, strictly speaking, the safest of food. But then, if you listen to all they say, it seems to me, we'd have to give up victuals altogether."
"The haddock, Mrs. Wilkins," I replied, "is a savoury and nourishing dish, the 'poor man's steak' I believe it is commonly called. When I was younger, Mrs. Wilkins, they were cheaper. For twopence one could secure a small specimen, for fourpence one of generous proportions. In the halcyon days of youth, when one's lexicon contained not the word failure (it has crept into later editions, Mrs. Wilkins, the word it was found was occasionally needful), the haddock was of much comfort and support to me, a very present help in time of trouble. In those days a kind friend, without intending it, nearly brought about my death by slow starvation. I had left my umbrella in an omnibus, and the season was rainy. The kind rich friend gave me a new umbrella; it was a rich man's umbrella; we made an ill-assorted pair. Its handle was of ivory, imposing in appearance, ornamented with a golden snake.
The unsympathetic Umbrella.
"Following my own judgment I should have pawned that umbrella, purchased one more suited to my state in life, and 'blued' the difference. But I was fearful of offending my one respectable acquaintance, and for weeks struggled on, hampered by this plutocratic appendage. The humble haddock was denied to me. Tied to this imposing umbrella, how could I haggle with fishmongers for haddocks. At first sight of me—or, rather, of my umbrella—they flew to icy cellars, brought up for my inspection soles at eighteenpence a pound, recommended me prime parts of salmon, which my landlady would have fried in a pan reeking with the mixed remains of pork chops, rashers of bacon and cheese. It was closed to me, the humble coffee shop, where for threepence I could have strengthened my soul with half a pint of cocoa and four "doorsteps"—satisfactory slices of bread smeared with a yellow grease that before the days of County Council inspectors they called butter. You know of them, Mrs. Wilkins? At sight of such nowadays I should turn up my jaded nose. But those were the days of my youth, Mrs. Wilkins. The scent of a thousand hopes was in my nostrils: so they smelt good to me. The fourpenny beefsteak pie, satisfying to the verge of repletion; the succulent saveloy, were not for the owner of the ivory-handled umbrella. On Mondays and Tuesdays, perhaps, I could enjoy life at the rate of five hundred a year—clean serviette a penny extra, and twopence to the waiter, whose income must have been at least four times my own. But from Wednesday to Saturday I had to wander in the wilderness of back streets and silent squares dinnerless, where there were not even to be found locusts and wild honey.
"It was, as I have said, a rainy season, and an umbrella of some sort was a necessity. Fortunately—or I might not be sitting here, Mrs. Wilkins, talking to you now—my one respectable acquaintance was called away to foreign lands, and that umbrella I promptly put 'up the spout.' You understand me?"
Mrs. Wilkins admitted she did, but was of opinion that twenty-five per cent., to say nothing of the halfpenny for the ticket every time, was a wicked imposition.
"It did not trouble me, Mrs. Wilkins," I replied, "in this particular instance. It was my determination never to see that umbrella again. The young man behind the counter seemed suspicious, and asked where I got it from. I told him that a friend had given it to me."
"'Did he know that he had given it to you?" demanded the young man.
"Upon which I gave him a piece of my mind concerning the character of those who think evil of others, and he gave me five and six, and said he should know me again; and I purchased an umbrella suited to my rank and station, and as fine a haddock as I have ever tasted with the balance, which was sevenpence, for I was feeling hungry.
"The haddock is an excellent fish, Mrs. Wilkins," I said, "and if, as you observe, we listened to all that was said we'd be hungrier at forty, with a balance to our credit at the bank, than ever we were at twenty, with 'no effects' beyond a sound digestion."
A Martyr to Health.
"There was a gent in Middle Temple Lane," said Mrs. Wilkins, "as I used to do for. It's my belief as 'e killed 'imself worrying twenty-four hours a day over what 'e called 'is 'ygiene. Leastways 'e's dead and buried now, which must be a comfort to 'imself, feeling as at last 'e's out of danger. All 'is time 'e spent taking care of 'imself—didn't seem to 'ave a leisure moment in which to live. For 'alf an hour every morning 'e'd lie on 'is back on the floor, which is a draughty place, I always 'old, at the best of times, with nothing on but 'is pyjamas, waving 'is arms and legs about, and twisting 'imself into shapes unnatural to a Christian. Then 'e found out that everything 'e'd been doing on 'is back was just all wrong, so 'e turned over and did tricks on 'is stomach—begging your pardon for using the word—that you'd 'ave thought more fit and proper to a worm than to a man. Then all that was discovered to be a mistake. There don't seem nothing certain in these matters. That's the awkward part of it, so it seems to me. 'E got 'imself a machine, by means of which 'e'd 'ang 'imself up to the wall, and behave for all the world like a beetle with a pin stuck through 'im, poor thing. It used to give me the shudders to catch sight of 'im through the 'alf-open door. For that was part of the game: you 'ad to 'ave a current of air through the room, the result of which was that for six months out of the year 'e'd be coughing and blowing 'is nose from morning to night. It was the new treatment, so 'e'd explain to me. You got yourself accustomed to draughts so that they didn't 'urt you, and if you died in the process that only proved that you never ought to 'ave been born.
"Then there came in this new Japanese business, and 'e'd 'ire a little smiling 'eathen to chuck 'im about 'is room for 'alf an hour every morning after breakfast. It got on my nerves after a while 'earing 'im being bumped on the floor every minute, or flung with 'is 'ead into the fire-place. But 'e always said it was doing 'im good. 'E'd argue that it freshened up 'is liver. It was 'is liver that 'e seemed to live for—didn't appear to 'ave any other interest in life. It was the same with 'is food. One year it would be nothing but meat, and next door to raw at that. One of them medical papers 'ad suddenly discovered that we were intended to be a sort of wild beast. The wonder to me is that 'e didn't go out 'unting chickens with a club, and bring 'em 'ome and eat 'em on the mat without any further fuss. For drink it would be boiling water that burnt my fingers merely 'andling the glass. Then some other crank came out with the information that every other crank was wrong—which, taken by itself, sounds natural enough—that meat was fatal to the 'uman system. Upon that 'e becomes all at once a raging, tearing vegetarian, and trouble enough I 'ad learning twenty different ways of cooking beans, which didn't make, so far as I could ever see, the slightest difference—beans they were, and beans they tasted like, whether you called them ragout a la maison, or cutlets a la Pompadour. But it seemed to please 'im.
He was never pig-headed.
"Then vegetarianism turned out to be the mistake of our lives. It seemed we made an error giving up monkeys' food. That was our natural victuals; nuts with occasional bananas. As I used to tell 'im, if that was so, then for all we 'ad got out of it we might just as well have stopped up a tree—saved rent and shoe leather. But 'e was one of that sort that don't seem able to 'elp believing everything they read in print. If one of those papers 'ad told 'im to live on the shells and throw away the nuts, 'e'd have made a conscientious endeavour to do so, contending that 'is failure to digest them was merely the result of vicious training—didn't seem to 'ave any likes or dislikes of 'is own. You might 'ave thought 'e was just a bit of public property made to be experimented upon.
"One of the daily papers interviewed an old gent, as said 'e was a 'undred, and I will say from 'is picture as any'ow 'e looked it. 'E said it was all the result of never 'aving swallowed anything 'ot, upon which my gentleman for a week lives on cold porridge, if you'll believe me; although myself I'd rather 'ave died at fifty and got it over. Then another paper dug up from somewhere a sort of animated corpse that said was a 'undred and two, and attributed the unfortunate fact to 'is always 'aving 'ad 'is food as 'ot as 'e could swallow it. A bit of sense did begin to dawn upon 'im then, but too late in the day, I take it. 'E'd played about with 'imself too long. 'E died at thirty-two, looking to all appearance sixty, and you can't say as 'ow it was the result of not taking advice."
Only just in time.
"On this subject of health we are much too ready to follow advice," I agreed. "A cousin of mine, Mrs. Wilkins, had a wife who suffered occasionally from headache. No medicine relieved her of them—not altogether. And one day by chance she met a friend who said: 'Come straight with me to Dr. Blank,' who happened to be a specialist famous for having invented a new disease that nobody until the year before had ever heard of. She accompanied her friend to Dr. Blank, and in less than ten minutes he had persuaded her that she had got this new disease, and got it badly; and that her only chance was to let him cut her open and have it out. She was a tolerably healthy woman, with the exception of these occasional headaches, but from what that specialist said it was doubtful whether she would get home alive, unless she let him operate on her then and there, and her friend, who appeared delighted, urged her not to commit suicide, as it were, by missing her turn.
"The result was she consented, and afterwards went home in a four-wheeled cab, and put herself to bed. Her husband, when he returned in the evening and was told, was furious. He said it was all humbug, and by this time she was ready to agree with him. He put on his hat, and started to give that specialist a bit of his mind. The specialist was out, and he had to bottle up his rage until the morning. By then, his wife now really ill for the first time in her life, his indignation had reached boiling point. He was at that specialist's door at half-past nine o'clock. At half-past eleven he came back, also in a four-wheeled cab, and day and night nurses for both of them were wired for. He also, it appeared, had arrived at that specialist's door only just in time.
"There's this appendy—whatever they call it," commented Mrs. Wilkins, "why a dozen years ago one poor creature out of ten thousand may possibly 'ave 'ad something wrong with 'is innards. To-day you ain't 'ardly considered respectable unless you've got it, or 'ave 'ad it. I 'ave no patience with their talk. To listen to some of them you'd think as Nature 'adn't made a man—not yet: would never understand the principle of the thing till some of these young chaps 'ad shown 'er 'ow to do it."
How to avoid Everything.
"They have now discovered, Mrs. Wilkins," I said, "the germ of old age. They are going to inoculate us for it in early youth, with the result that the only chance of ever getting rid of our friends will be to give them a motor-car. And maybe it will not do to trust to that for long. They will discover that some men's tendency towards getting themselves into trouble is due to some sort of a germ. The man of the future, Mrs. Wilkins, will be inoculated against all chance of gas explosions, storms at sea, bad oysters, and thin ice. Science may eventually discover the germ prompting to ill-assorted marriages, proneness to invest in the wrong stock, uncontrollable desire to recite poetry at evening parties. Religion, politics, education—all these things are so much wasted energy. To live happy and good for ever and ever, all we have to do is to hunt out these various germs and wring their necks for them—or whatever the proper treatment may be. Heaven, I gather from medical science, is merely a place that is free from germs."
"We talk a lot about it," thought Mrs. Wilkins, "but it does not seem to me that we are very much better off than before we took to worrying ourselves for twenty-four 'ours a day about 'ow we are going to live. Lord! to read the advertisements in the papers you would think as 'ow flesh and blood was never intended to 'ave any natural ills. 'Do you ever 'ave a pain in your back?' because, if so, there's a picture of a kind gent who's willing for one and sixpence halfpenny to take it quite away from you—make you look forward to scrubbing floors, and standing over the wash-tub six 'ours at a stretch like to a beanfeast. 'Do you ever feel as though you don't want to get out of bed in the morning?' that's all to be cured by a bottle of their stuff—or two at the outside. Four children to keep, and a sick 'usband on your 'ands used to get me over it when I was younger. I used to fancy it was just because I was tired.
The one Cure-All.
"There's some of them seem to think," continued Mrs. Wilkins, "that if you don't get all you want out of this world, and ain't so 'appy as you've persuaded yourself you ought to be, that it's all because you ain't taking the right medicine. Appears to me there's only one doctor as can do for you, all the others talk as though they could, and 'e only comes to each of us once, and then 'e makes no charge."
Europe and the bright American Girl.
"How does she do it?"
That is what the European girl wants to know. The American girl! She comes over here, and, as a British matron, reduced to slang by force of indignation, once exclaimed to me: "You'd think the whole blessed show belonged to her." The European girl is hampered by her relatives. She has to account for her father: to explain away, if possible, her grandfather. The American girl sweeps them aside:
"Don't you worry about them," she says to the Lord Chamberlain. "It's awfully good of you, but don't you fuss yourself. I'm looking after my old people. That's my department. What I want you to do is just to listen to what I am saying and then hustle around. I can fill up your time all right by myself."
Her father may be a soap-boiler, her grandmother may have gone out charing.
"That's all right," she says to her Ambassador: "They're not coming. You just take my card and tell the King that when he's got a few minutes to spare I'll be pleased to see him."
And the extraordinary thing is that, a day or two afterwards, the invitation arrives.
A modern writer has said that "I'm Murrican" is the Civis Romanus sum of the present-day woman's world. The late King of Saxony, did, I believe, on one occasion make a feeble protest at being asked to receive the daughter of a retail bootmaker. The young lady, nonplussed for the moment, telegraphed to her father in Detroit. The answer came back next morning: "Can't call it selling—practically giving them away. See Advertisement." The lady was presented as the daughter of an eminent philanthropist.
It is due to her to admit that, taking her as a class, the American girl is a distinct gain to European Society. Her influence is against convention and in favour of simplicity. One of her greatest charms, in the eyes of the European man, is that she listens to him. I cannot say whether it does her any good. Maybe she does not remember it all, but while you are talking she does give you her attention. The English woman does not always. She greets you pleasantly enough:
"I've so often wanted to meet you," she says, "must you really go?"
It strikes you as sudden: you had no intention of going for hours. But the hint is too plain to be ignored. You are preparing to agree that you really must when, looking round, you gather that the last remark was not addressed to you, but to another gentleman who is shaking hands with her:
"Now, perhaps we shall be able to talk for five minutes," she says. "I've so often wanted to say that I shall never forgive you. You have been simply horrid."
Again you are confused, until you jump to the conclusion that the latter portion of the speech is probably intended for quite another party with whom, at the moment, her back towards you, she is engaged in a whispered conversation. When he is gone she turns again to you. But the varied expressions that pass across her face while you are discussing with her the disadvantages of Protection, bewilder you. When, explaining your own difficulty in arriving at a conclusion, you remark that Great Britain is an island, she roguishly shakes her head. It is not that she has forgotten her geography, it is that she is conducting a conversation by signs with a lady at the other end of the room. When you observe that the working classes must be fed, she smiles archly while murmuring:
"Oh, do you really think so?"
You are about to say something strong on the subject of dumping. Apparently she has disappeared. You find that she is reaching round behind you to tap a new arrival with her fan.
She has the Art of Listening.
Now, the American girl looks at you, and just listens to you with her eyes fixed on you all the time. You gather that, as far as she is concerned, the rest of the company are passing shadows. She wants to hear what you have to say about Bi-metallism: her trouble is lest she may miss a word of it. From a talk with an American girl one comes away with the conviction that one is a brilliant conversationalist, who can hold a charming woman spell-bound. This may not be good for one: but while it lasts, the sensation is pleasant.
Even the American girl cannot, on all occasions, sweep from her path the cobwebs of old-world etiquette. Two American ladies told me a sad tale of things that had happened to them not long ago in Dresden. An officer of rank and standing invited them to breakfast with him on the ice. Dames and nobles of the plus haut ton would be there. It is a social function that occurs every Sunday morning in Dresden during the skating season. The great lake in the Grosser Garten is covered with all sorts and conditions of people. Prince and commoner circle and recircle round one another. But they do not mix. The girls were pleased. They secured the services of an elderly lady, the widow of an analytical chemist: unfortunately, she could not skate. They wrapped her up and put her in a sledge. While they were in the garde robe putting on their skates, a German gentleman came up and bowed to them.
He was a nice young man of prepossessing appearance and amiable manners. They could not call to mind his name, but remembered having met him, somewhere, and on more than one occasion. The American girl is always sociable: they bowed and smiled, and said it was a fine day. He replied with volubility, and helped them down on to the ice. He was really most attentive. They saw their friend, the officer of noble family, and, with the assistance of the German gentleman, skated towards him. He glided past them. They thought that maybe he did not know enough to stop, so they turned and skated after him. They chased him three times round the pond and then, feeling tired, eased up and took counsel together.
"I'm sure he must have seen us," said the younger girl. "What does he mean by it?"
"Well, I have not come down here to play forfeits," said the other, "added to which I want my breakfast. You wait here a minute, I'll go and have it out with him."
He was standing only a dozen yards away. Alone, though not a good performer on the ice, she contrived to cover half the distance dividing them. The officer, perceiving her, came to her assistance and greeted her with effusion.
The Republican Idea in practice.
"Oh," said the lady, who was feeling indignant, "I thought maybe you had left your glasses at home."
"I am sorry," said the officer, "but it is impossible."
"What's impossible?" demanded the lady.
"That I can be seen speaking to you," declared the officer, "while you are in company with that—that person."
"What person?" She thought maybe he was alluding to the lady in the sledge. The chaperon was not showy, but, what is better, she was good. And, anyhow, it was the best the girls had been able to do. So far as they were concerned, they had no use for a chaperon. The idea had been a thoughtful concession to European prejudice.
"The person in knickerbockers," explained the officer.
"Oh, that," exclaimed the lady, relieved: "he just came up and made himself agreeable while we were putting on our skates. We have met him somewhere, but I can't exactly fix him for the moment."
"You have met him possibly at Wiesman's, in the Pragerstrasse: he is one of the attendants there," said the officer.
The American girl is Republican in her ideas, but she draws the line at hairdressers. In theory it is absurd: the hairdresser is a man and a brother: but we are none of us logical all the way. It made her mad, the thought that she had been seen by all Dresden Society skating with a hairdresser.
"Well," she said, "I do call that impudence. Why, they wouldn't do that even in Chicago."
And she returned to where the hairdresser was illustrating to her friend the Dutch roll, determined to explain to him, as politely as possible, that although the free and enlightened Westerner has abolished social distinctions, he has not yet abolished them to that extent.
Had he been a commonplace German hairdresser he would have understood English, and all might have been easy. But to the "classy" German hairdresser, English is not so necessary, and the American ladies had reached, as regards their German, only the "improving" stage. In her excitement she confused the subjunctive and the imperative, and told him that he "might" go. He had no wish to go; he assured them—so they gathered—that his intention was to devote the morning to their service. He must have been a stupid man, but it is a type occasionally encountered. Two pretty women had greeted his advances with apparent delight. They were Americans, and the American girl was notoriously unconventional. He knew himself to be a good-looking young fellow. It did not occur to him that in expressing willingness to dispense with his attendance they could be in earnest.
There was nothing for it, so it seemed to the girls, but to request the assistance of the officer, who continued to skate round and round them at a distance of about ten yards. So again the elder young lady, seizing her opportunity, made appeal.
What the Soldier dared not do.
"I cannot," persisted the officer, who, having been looking forward to a morning with two of the prettiest girls in Dresden, was also feeling mad. "I dare not be seen speaking to a hairdresser. You must get rid of him."
"But we can't," said the girl. "We do not know enough German, and he can't, or he won't, understand us. For goodness sake come and help us. We'll be spending the whole morning with him if you don't."
The German officer said he was desolate. Steps would be taken—later in the week—the result of which would probably be to render that young hairdresser prematurely bald. But, meanwhile, beyond skating round and round them, for which they did not even feel they wanted to thank him, the German officer could do nothing for them. They tried being rude to the hairdresser: he mistook it for American chic. They tried joining hands and running away from him, but they were not good skaters, and he thought they were trying to show him the cake walk. They both fell down and hurt themselves, and it is difficult to be angry with a man, even a hairdresser, when he is doing his best to pick you up and comfort you.
The chaperon was worse than useless. She was very old. She had been promised her breakfast, but saw no signs of it. She could not speak German; and remembered somewhat late in the day that two young ladies had no business to accept breakfast at the hands of German officers: and, if they did, at least they might see that they got it. She appeared to be willing to talk about decadence of modern manners to almost any extent, but the subject of the hairdresser, and how to get rid of him, only bored her.
Their first stroke of luck occurred when the hairdresser, showing them the "dropped three," fell down and temporarily stunned himself. It was not kind of them, but they were desperate. They flew for the bank just anyhow, and, scrambling over the grass, gained the restaurant. The officer, overtaking them at the door, led them to the table that had been reserved for them, then hastened back to hunt for the chaperon. The girls thought their trouble was over. Had they glanced behind them their joy would have been shorter-lived than even was the case. The hairdresser had recovered consciousness in time to see them waddling over the grass. He thought they were running to fetch him brandy. When the officer returned with the chaperon he found the hairdresser sitting opposite to them, explaining that he really was not hurt, and suggesting that, as they were there, perhaps they would like something to eat and drink.
The girls made one last frantic appeal to the man of buckram and pipeclay, but the etiquette of the Saxon Army was inexorable. It transpired that he might kill the hairdresser, but nothing else: he must not speak to him—not even explain to the poor devil why it was that he was being killed.
Her path of Usefulness.
It did not seem quite worth it. They had some sandwiches and coffee at the hairdresser's expense, and went home in a cab: while the chaperon had breakfast with the officer of noble family.
The American girl has succeeded in freeing European social intercourse from many of its hide-bound conventions. There is still much work for her to do. But I have faith in her.
Music and the Savage.
I never visit a music-hall without reflecting concerning the great future there must be before the human race.
How young we are, how very young! And think of all we have done! Man is still a mere boy. He has only just within the last half-century been put into trousers. Two thousand years ago he wore long clothes—the Grecian robe, the Roman toga. Then followed the Little Lord Fauntleroy period, when he went about dressed in a velvet suit with lace collar and cuffs, and had his hair curled for him. The late lamented Queen Victoria put him into trousers. What a wonderful little man he will be when he is grown up!
A clergyman friend of mine told me of a German Kurhaus to which he was sent for his sins and his health. It was a resort, for some reason, specially patronized by the more elderly section of the higher English middle class. Bishops were there, suffering from fatty degeneration of the heart caused by too close application to study; ancient spinsters of good family subject to spasms; gouty retired generals. Can anybody tell me how many men in the British Army go to a general? Somebody once assured me it was five thousand, but that is absurd, on the face of it. The British Army, in that case, would have to be counted by millions. There are a goodish few American colonels still knocking about. The American colonel is still to be met with here and there by the curious traveller, but compared with the retired British general he is an extinct species. In Cheltenham and Brighton and other favoured towns there are streets of nothing but retired British generals—squares of retired British generals—whole crescents of British generals. Abroad there are pensions with a special scale of charges for British generals. In Switzerland there has even been talk of reserving railway compartments "For British Generals Only." In Germany, when you do not say distinctly and emphatically on being introduced that you are not a British general, you are assumed, as a matter of course, to be a British general. During the Boer War, when I was residing in a small garrison town on the Rhine, German military men would draw me aside and ask of me my own private personal views as to the conduct of the campaign. I would give them my views freely, explain to them how I would finish the whole thing in a week.
"But how in the face of the enemy's tactics—" one of them would begin.
"Bother the enemy's tactics," I would reply. "Who cares for tactics?"
"But surely a British general—" they would persist. "Who's a British general?" I would retort, "I am talking to you merely as a plain commonsense man, with a head on my shoulders."
They would apologize for their mistake. But this is leading me away from that German Kurhaus.
Recreation for the Higher clergy.
My clergyman friend found life there dull. The generals and the spinsters left to themselves might have played cards, but they thought of the poor bishops who would have had to look on envious. The bishops and the spinsters might have sung ballads, but the British general after dinner does not care for ballads, and had mentioned it. The bishops and the generals might have told each other stories, but could not before the ladies. My clergyman friend stood the awful solemnity of three evenings, then cautiously felt his way towards revelry. He started with an intellectual game called "Quotations." You write down quotations on a piece of paper, and the players have to add the author's name. It roped in four old ladies, and the youngest bishop. One or two generals tried a round, but not being familiar with quotations voted the game slow.
The next night my friend tried "Consequences." "Saucy Miss A. met the gay General B. in"—most unlikely places. "He said." Really it was fortunate that General B. remained too engrossed in the day before yesterday's Standard to overhear, or Miss A. could never have again faced him. "And she replied." The suppressed giggles excited the curiosity of the non-players. Most of the bishops and half the generals asked to be allowed to join. The giggles grew into roars. Those standing out found that they could not read their papers in comfort.