January 1st.--The service on New Year's Eve is the only one in
the whole year that in the least impresses me in our little church,
and then the very bareness and ugliness of the place and the ceremonial
produce an effect that a snug service in a well-lit church never would.
Last night we took Irais and Minora, and drove the three lonely
miles in a sleigh. It was pitch-dark, and blowing great guns.
We sat wrapped up to our eyes in furs, and as mute as a funeral procession.
We are going to the burial of our last year's sins,"
said Irais, as we started; and there certainly was a funereal sort
of feeling in the air. Up in our gallery pew we tried to decipher
our chorales by the light of the spluttering tallow candles stuck in
holes in the woodwork, the flames wildly blown about by the draughts.
The wind banged against the windows in great gusts, screaming louder
than the organ, and threatening to blow out the agitated lights together.
The parson in his gloomy pulpit, surrounded by a framework of dusty
carved angels, took on an awful appearance of menacing Authority
as he raised his voice to make himself heard above the clatter.
Sitting there in the dark, I felt very small, and solitary, and defenceless,
alone in a great, big, black world. The church was as cold as a tomb;
some of the candles guttered and went out; the parson in his black robe spoke
of death and judgment; I thought I heard a child's voice screaming, and could
hardly believe it was only the wind, and felt uneasy and full of forebodings;
all my faith and philosophy deserted me, and I had a horrid feeling that I
should probably be well punished, though for what I had no precise idea.
If it had not been so dark, and if the wind had not howled so despairingly,
I should have paid little attention to the threats issuing
from the pulpit; but, as it was, I fell to making good resolutions.
This is always a bad sign,--only those who break them make them;
and if you simply do as a matter of course that which is right as it comes,
any preparatory resolving to do so becomes completely superfluous.
I have for some years past left off making them on New Year's Eve,
and only the gale happening as it did reduced me to doing so last night;
for I have long since discovered that, though the year and the resolutions
may be new, I myself am not, and it is worse than useless putting new
wine into old bottles.
"But I am not an old bottle," said Irais indignantly, when I held
forth to her to the above effect a few hours later in the library,
restored to all my philosophy by the warmth and light, "and I find
my resolutions carry me very nicely into the spring. I revise them
at the end of each month, and strike out the unnecessary ones.
By the end of April they have been so severely revised that there
are none left."
"There, you see I am right; if you were not an old bottle your new
contents would gradually arrange themselves amiably as a part of you,
and the practice of your resolutions would lose its bitterness
by becoming a habit."
She shook her head. "Such things never lose their bitterness," she said,
"and that is why I don't let them cling to me right into the summer.
When May comes, I give myself up to jollity with all the rest of the world,
and am too busy being happy to bother about anything I may have resolved
when the days were cold and dark."
"And that is just why I love you," I thought.
She often says what I feel.
"I wonder," she went on after a pause, "whether men
ever make resolutions?"
"I don't think they do. Only women indulge in such luxuries.
It is a nice sort of feeling, when you have nothing else to do,
giving way to endless grief and penitence, and steeping yourself to the eyes
in contrition; but it is silly. Why cry over things that are done?
Why do naughty things at all, if you are going to repent afterward?
Nobody is naughty unless they like being naughty; and nobody ever really
repents unless they are afraid they are going to be found out."
"By 'nobody' of course you mean women, said Irais.
"Naturally; the terms are synonymous. Besides, men generally
have the courage of their opinions."
"I hope you are listening, Miss Minora," said Irais in the amiably
polite tone she assumes whenever she speaks to that young person.
It was getting on towards midnight, and we were sitting
round the fire, waiting for the New Year, and sipping Glubwein,
prepared at a small table by the Man of Wrath. It was hot, and sweet,
and rather nasty, but it is proper to drink it on this one night,
so of course we did.
Minora does not like either Irais or myself. We very soon
discovered that, and laugh about it when we are alone together.
I can understand her disliking Irais, but she must be a perverse
creature not to like me. Irais has poked fun at her, and I have been,
I hope, very kind; yet we are bracketed together in her black books.
It is also apparent that she looks upon the Man of Wrath as an interesting
example of an ill-used and misunderstood husband, and she is disposed
to take him under her wing, and defend him on all occasions against us.
He never speaks to her; he is at all times a man of few words, but,
as far as Minora is concerned, he might have no tongue at all,
and sits sphinx-like and impenetrable while she takes us to task
about some remark of a profane nature that we may have addressed to him.
One night, some days after her arrival, she developed a skittishness
of manner which has since disappeared, and tried to be playful with him;
but you might as well try to be playful with a graven image.
The wife of one of the servants had just produced a boy, the first
after a series of five daughters, and at dinner we drank the health
of all parties concerned, the Man of Wrath making the happy father drink
a glass off at one gulp, his heels well together in military fashion.
Minora thought the incident typical of German manners, and not only
made notes about it, but joined heartily in the health-drinking, and
afterward grew skittish.
She proposed, first of all, to teach us a dance called,
I think, the Washington Post, and which was, she said, much danced
in England; and, to induce us to learn, she played the tune
to us on the piano. We remained untouched by its beauties,
each buried in an easy-chair toasting our toes at the fire.
Amongst those toes were those of the Man of Wrath, who sat peaceably
reading a book and smoking. Minora volunteered to show us the steps,
and as we still did not move, danced solitary behind our chairs.
Irais did not even turn her head to look, and I was the only one
amiable or polite enough to do so. Do I deserve to be placed
in Minora's list of disagreeable people side by side with Irais?
Certainly not. Yet I most surely am.
"It wants the music, of course," observed Minora breathlessly,
darting in and out between the chairs, apparently addressing me,
but glancing at the Man of Wrath.
No answer from anybody.
"It is such a pretty dance," she panted again, after a
few more gyrations.
"And is all the rage at home."
"Do let me teach you. Won't you try, Herr Sage?"
She went up to him and dropped him a little curtesy.
It is thus she always addresses him, entirely oblivious to the fact,
so patent to every one else, that he resents it.
"Oh come, put away that tiresome old book,"
she went on gaily, as he did not move; "I am certain it
is only some dry agricultural work that you just nod over.
Dancing is much better for you."
Irais and I looked at one another quite frightened.
I am sure we both turned pale when the unhappy girl actually laid
hold forcibly of his book, and, with a playful little shriek,
ran away with it into the next room, hugging it to her bosom
and looking back roguishly over her shoulder at him as she ran.
There was an awful pause. We hardly dared raise our eyes.
Then the Mall of Wrath got up slowly, knocked the ashes off the end
of his cigar, looked at his watch, and went out at the opposite door
into his own rooms, where he stayed for the rest of the evening.
She has never, I must say, been skittish since.
"I hope you are listening, Miss Minora," said Irais,
"because this sort of conversation is likely to do you good."
"I always listen when people talk sensibly," replied Minora,
stirring her grog.
Irais glanced at her with slightly doubtful eyebrows.
"Do you agree with our hostess's description of women?"
she asked after a pause.
"As nobodies? No, of course I do not."
"Yet she is right. In the eye of the law we are literally
nobodies in our country. Did you know that women are forbidden
to go to political meetings here?"
"Really?" Out came the note-book.
"The law expressly forbids the attendance at such meetings
of women, children, and idiots."
"Children and idiots--I understand that," said Minora; "but women--
and classed with children and idiots?"
"Classed with children and idiots," repeated Irais,
gravely nodding her head. "Did you know that the law forbids
females of any age to ride on the top of omnibuses or tramcars?"
"Do you know why?"
"I can't imagine."
"Because in going up and down the stairs those inside might perhaps
catch a glimpse of the stocking covering their ankles."
"Did you know that the morals of the German public are in such a shaky
condition that a glimpse of that sort would be fatal to them? "
"But I don't see how a stocking--"
"With stripes round it," said Irais.
"And darns in it," I added.
--could possibly be pernicious? "
"'The Pernicious Stocking; or, Thoughts on the Ethics of Petticoats,'"
said Irais. "Put that down as the name of your next book on Germany."
"I never know," complained Minora, letting her note-book fall,
"whether you are in earnest or not."
"Don't you?" said Irais sweetly.
"Is it true," appealed Minora to the Man of Wrath,
busy with his lemons in the background, "that your law classes
women with children and idiots?"
"Certainly," he answered promptly, "and a very
proper classification, too."
We all looked blank. "That's rude," said I at last.
"Truth is always rude, my dear," he replied complacently.
Then he added, "If I were commissioned to draw up a new legal code,
and had previously enjoyed the privilege, as I have been doing lately,
of listening to the conversation of you three young ladies,
I should make precisely the same classification."
Even Minora was incensed at this.
"You are telling us in the most unvarnished manner that we
are idiots," said Irais.
"Idiots? No, no, by no means. But children,--nice little
agreeable children. I very much like to hear you talk together.
It is all so young and fresh what you think and what you believe,
and not of the least consequence to any one.
"Not of the least consequence?" cried Minora.
"What we believe is of very great consequence indeed to us."
"Are you jeering at our beliefs?" inquired Irais sternly.
"Not for worlds. I would not on any account disturb
or change your pretty little beliefs. It is your chief charm
that you always believe every-thing. How desperate would our case
be if young ladies only believed facts, and never accepted another
person's assurance, but preferred the evidence of their own eyes!
They would have no illusions, and a woman without illusions is
the dreariest and most difficult thing to manage possible."
"Thing?" protested Irais.
The Man of Wrath, usually so silent, makes up for it
from time to time by holding forth at unnecessary length.
He took up his stand now with his back to the fire,
and a glass of Glubwein in his hand. Minora had hardly
heard his voice before, so quiet had he been since she came,
and sat with her pencil raised, ready to fix for ever
the wisdom that should flow from his lips.
"What would become of poetry if women became so sensible
that they turned a deaf ear to the poetic platitudes of love?
That love does indulge in platitudes I suppose you will admit."
He looked at Irais.
"Yes, they all say exactly the same thing," she acknowledged.
"Who could murmur pretty speeches on the beauty of a common sacrifice,
if the listener's want of imagination was such as to enable her only
to distinguish one victim in the picture, and that one herself? "
Minora took that down word for word,--much good may it do her.
"Who would be brave enough to affirm that if refused
he will die, if his assurances merely elicit a recommendation
to diet himself, and take plenty of outdoor exercise?
Women are responsible for such lies, because they believe them.
Their amazing vanity makes them swallow flattery so gross
that it is an insult, and men will always be ready to tell
the precise number of lies that a woman is ready to listen to.
Who indulges more recklessly in glowing exaggerations than
the lover who hopes, and has not yet obtained2 He will,
like the nightingale, sing with unceasing modulations,
display all his talent, untiringly repeat his sweetest notes,
until he has what he wants, when his song, like the nightingale's,
immediately ceases, never again to be heard."
"Take that down," murmured Irais aside to Minora--unnecessary advice,
for her pencil was scribbling as fast as it could.
"A woman's vanity is so immeasurable that, after having
had ninety-nine object-lessons in the difference between
promise and performance and the emptiness of pretty speeches,
the beginning of the hundredth will find her lending
the same willing and enchanted ear to the eloquence
of flattery as she did on the occasion of the first.
What can the exhortations of the strong-minded sister,
who has never had these experiences, do for such a woman?
It is useless to tell her she is man's victim, that she is
his plaything, that she is cheated, down-trodden, kept under,
laughed at, shabbily treated in every way--that is not a true
statement of the case. She is simply the victim of her own vanity,
and against that, against the belief in her own fascinations,
against the very part of herself that gives all the colour
to her life, who shall expect a woman to take up arms?"
"Are you so vain, Elizabeth?" inquired Irais with a shocked face,
"and had you lent a willing ear to the blandishments of ninety-nine
before you reached your final destiny?"
"I am one of the sensible ones, I suppose," I replied,
"for nobody ever wanted me to listen to blandishments."
"I like to hear you talk together about the position of women,"
he went on, "and wonder when you will realise that they hold exactly
the position they are fitted for. As soon as they are fit to occupy a better,
no power on earth will be able to keep them out of it. Meanwhile, let me
warn you that, as things now are, only strong-minded women wish to see
you the equals of men, and the strong-minded are invariably plain.
The pretty ones would rather see men their slaves than their equals."
"You know," said Irais, frowning, "that I consider myself strong-minded."
"And never rise till lunch-time?"
Irais blushed. Although I don't approve of such conduct,
it is very convenient in more ways than one;
I get through my housekeeping undisturbed, and whenever she
is disposed to lecture me, I begin about this habit of hers.
Her conscience must be terribly stricken on the point,
for she is by no means as a rule given to meekness.
"A woman without vanity would be unattackable," resumed the Man
of Wrath. "When a girl enters that downward path that leads to ruin,
she is led solely by her own vanity; for in these days of policemen
no young woman can be forced against her will from the path
of virtue, and the cries of the injured are never heard until
the destroyer begins to express his penitence for having destroyed.
If his passion could remain at white-heat and he could continue
to feed her ear with the protestations she loves, no principles
of piety or virtue would disturb the happiness of his companion;
for a mournful experience teaches that piety begins only where
passion ends, and that principles are strongest where temptations
are most rare."
"But what has all this to do with us?" I inquired severely.
"You were displeased at our law classing you as it does,
and I merely wish to justify it," he answered.
"Creatures who habitually say yes to everything a man proposes,
when no one can oblige them to say it, and when it is so often fatal,
are plainly not responsible beings."
"I shall never say it to you again, my dear man," I said.
"And not only that fatal weakness," he continued,
"but what is there, candidly, to distinguish you from children?
You are older, but not wiser,--really not so wise,
for with years you lose the common sense you had as children.
Have you ever heard a group of women talking reasonably together? "
"Yes--we do!" Irais and I cried in a breath.
"It has interested me," went on the Man of Wrath, "in my idle moments,
to listen to their talk. It amused me to hear the malicious little
stories they told of their best friends who were absent, to note
the spiteful little digs they gave their best friends who were present,
to watch the utter incredulity with which they listened to the tale
of some other woman's conquests, the radiant good faith they displayed
in connection with their own, the instant collapse into boredom,
if some topic of so-called general interest, by some extraordinary chance,
"You must have belonged to a particularly nice set," remarked Irais.
"And as for politics," he said, "I have never heard them
mentioned among women."
"Children and idiots are not interested in such things," I said.
"And we are much too frightened of being put in prison," said Irais.
"In prison?" echoed Minora.
"Don't you know," said Irais, turning to her "that if you talk
about such things here you run a great risk of being imprisoned?"
"But why? Because, though you yourself may have meant
nothing but what was innocent, your words may have suggested
something less innocent to the evil minds of your hearers;
and then the law steps in, and calls it dolus eventualis,
and everybody says how dreadful, and off you go to prison
and are punished as you deserve to be."
Minora looked mystified.
"That is not, however, your real reason for not discussing them,"
said the Man of Wrath; "they simply do not interest you.
Or it may be, that you do not consider your female friends'
opinions worth listening to, for you certainly display an
astonishing thirst for information when male politicians are present.
I have seen a pretty young woman, hardly in her twenties, sitting a whole
evening drinking in the doubtful wisdom of an elderly political star,
with every appearance of eager interest. He was a bimetallic star,
and was giving her whole pamphletsful of information."
"She wanted to make up to him for some reason," said Irais, "and got
him to explain his hobby to her, and he was silly enough to be taken in.
Now which was the sillier in that case?"
She threw herself back in her chair and looked up defiantly,
beating her foot impatiently on the carpet.
"She wanted to be thought clever," said the Man of Wrath.
"What puzzled me," he went on musingly," was that she went
away apparently as serene and happy as when she came.
The explanation of the principles of bimetallism produce,
as a rule, a contrary effect."
"Why, she hadn't been listening," cried Irais, "and your simple
star had been making a fine goose of himself the whole evening.
"Prattle, prattle, simple star,
Though you're given to describe
Woman as a dummes Weib.
You yourself are sillier far,
Prattling, bimetallic star!"
"No doubt she had understood very little," said the Man of Wrath,
taking no notice of this effusion.
"And no doubt the gentleman hadn't understood much either."
Irais was plainly irritated.
"Your opinion of woman," said Minora in a very small voice,
"is not a high one. But, in the sick chamber, I suppose you agree
that no one could take her place? "
"If you are thinking of hospital-nurses," I said, "I must tell
you that I believe he married chiefly that he might have a wife
instead of a strange woman to nurse him when he is sick."
"But," said Minora, bewildered at the way her illusions were being
knocked about, "the sick-room is surely the very place of all others
in which a woman's gentleness and tact are most valuable."
"Gentleness and tact?" repeated the Man of Wrath.
"I have never met those qualities in the professional nurse.
According to my experience, she is a disagreeable person
who finds in private nursing exquisite opportunities for
asserting her superiority over ordinary and prostrate mankind.
I know of no more humiliating position for a man than to be
in bed having his feverish brow soothed by a sprucely-dressed
strange woman, bristling with starch and spotlessness.
He would give half his income for his clothes, and probably
the other half if she would leave him alone, and go away altogether.
He feels her superiority through every pore; he never before
realised how absolutely inferior he is; he is abjectly polite,
and contemptibly conciliatory; if a friend comes to see him,
he eagerly praises her in case she should be listening behind
the screen; he cannot call his soul his own, and, what is far
more intolerable, neither is he sure that his body really
belongs to him; he has read of ministering angels and the light
touch of a woman's hand, but the day on which he can ring
for his servant and put on his socks in private fills him
with the same sort of wildness of joy that he felt as a homesick
schoolboy at the end of his first term."
Minora was silent. Irais's foot was livelier than ever.
The Man of Wrath stood smiling blandly down upon us.
You can't argue with a person so utterly convinced of his
infallibility that he won't even get angry with you;
so we sat round and said nothing.
"If," he went on, addressing Irais, who looked rebellious,
"you doubt the truth of my remarks, and still cling to the old poetic
notion of noble, self-sacrificing women tenderly helping the patient
over the rough places on the road to death or recovery, let me beg
you to try for yourself, next time any one in your house is ill,
whether the actual fact in any way corresponds to the picturesque belief.
The angel who is to alleviate our sufferings comes in such a
questionable shape, that to the unimaginative she appears merely
as an extremely self-confident young woman, wisely concerned first
of all in securing her personal comfort, much given to complaints
about her food and to helplessness where she should be helpful,
possessing an extraordinary capacity for fancying herself slighted,
or not regarded as the superior being she knows herself to be,
morbidly anxious lest the servants should, by some mistake, treat her
with offensive cordiality, pettish if the patient gives more trouble
than she had expected, intensely injured and disagreeable if he is made
so courageous by his wretchedness as to wake her during the night--
an act of desperation of which I was guilty once, and once only.
Oh, these good women! What sane man wants to have to do with angels?
And especially do we object to having them about us when we are sick
and sorry, when we feel in every fibre what poor things we are,
and when all our fortitude is needed to enable us to bear our
temporary inferiority patiently, without being forced besides
to assume an attitude of eager and grovelling politeness towards
the angel in the house."
There was a pause.
"I didn't know you could talk so much, Sage," said Irais at length.
"What would you have women do, then?" asked Minora meekly.
Irais began to beat her foot up and down again,--what did it
matter what Men of Wrath would have us do? "There are not,"
continued Minora, blushing, "husbands enough for every one,
and the rest must do something."
"Certainly," replied the oracle. "Study the art of pleasing
by dress and manner as long as you are of an age to interest us,
and above all, let all women, pretty and plain, married and single,
study the art of cookery. If you are an artist in the kitchen
you will always be esteemed."
I sat very still. Every German woman, even the wayward Irais,
has learned to cook; I seem to have been the only one who was
naughty and wouldn't.
"Only be careful," he went on, "in studying both arts,
never to forget the great truth that dinner precedes blandishments
and not blandishments dinner. A man must be made comfortable
before he will make love to you; and though it is true that if you
offered him a choice between Spickgans and kisses, he would say
he would take both, yet he would invariably begin with the Spickgans,
and allow the kisses to wait."
At this I got up, and Irais followed my example.
"Your cynicism is disgusting," I said icily.
"You two are always exceptions to anything I may say,"
he said, smiling amiably.
He stooped and kissed Irais's hand. She is inordinately vain
of her hands, and says her husband married her for their sake,
which I can quite believe. I am glad they are on her and not on Minora,
for if Minora had had them I should have been annoyed. Minora's are bony,
with chilly-looking knuckles, ignored nails, and too much wrist.
I feel very well disposed towards her when my eye falls on them.
She put one forward now, evidently thinking it would be kissed too.
"Did you know," said Irais, seeing the movement, "that it is the custom
here to kiss women's hands?"
"But only married women's," I added, not desiring her to feel out of it,
"never young girls'."
She drew it in again. "It is a pretty custom," she said with a sigh;
and pensively inscribed it in her book.
January 15th.--The bills for my roses and bulbs and other last year's
horticultural indulgences were all on the table when I came down to breakfast
this morning. They rather frightened me. Gardening is expensive, I find,
when it has to be paid for out of one's own private pin-money. The Man of
Wrath does not in the least want roses, or flowering shrubs, or plantations,
or new paths, and therefore, he asks, why should he pay for them?
So he does not and I do, and I have to make up for it by not indulging
all too riotously in new clothes, which is no doubt very chastening.
I certainly prefer buying new rose-trees to new dresses, if I cannot
comfortably have both; and I see a time coming when the passion for my
garden will have taken such a hold on me that I shall not only entirely
cease buying more clothes, but begin to sell those that I already have.
The garden is so big that everything has to be bought wholesale;
and I fear I shall not be able to go on much longer with only one man
and a stork, because the more I plant the more there will be to water
in the inevitable drought, and the watering is a serious consideration
when it means going backwards and forwards all day long to a pump near
the house, with a little water-cart. People living in England, in almost
perpetual mildness and moisture, don't really know what a drought is.
If they have some weeks of cloudless weather, it is generally preceded
and followed by good rains; but we have perhaps an hour's shower every week,
and then comes a month or six weeks' drought. The soil is very light,
and dries so quickly that, after the heaviest thunder-shower, I can walk
over any of my paths in my thin shoes; and to keep the garden even moderately
damp it should pour with rain regularly every day for three hours.
My only means of getting water is to go to the pump near the house,
or to the little stream that forms my eastern boundary, and the little
stream dries up too unless there has been rain, and is at the best of times
difficult to get at, having steep banks covered with forget-me-nots.
I possess one moist, peaty bit of ground, and that is to be planted
with silver birches in imitation of the Hirschwald, and is to be carpeted
between the birches with flaming azaleas. All the rest of my soil is sandy--
the soil for pines and acacias, but not the soil for roses; yet see what
love will do--there are more roses in my garden than any other flower!
Next spring the bare places are to be filled with trees that I have ordered:
pines behind the delicate acacias, and startling mountain-ashes, oaks,
copper-beeches, maples, larches, juniper-trees--was it not Elijah
who sat down to rest under a juniper-tree? I have often wondered
how he managed to get under it. It is a compact little tree,
not more than two to three yards high here, and all closely squeezed
up together. Perhaps they grew more aggressively where he was.
By the time the babies have grown old and disagreeable it will be
very pretty here, and then possibly they won't like it; and, if they
have inherited the Man of Wrath's indifference to gardens, they will let
it run wild and leave it to return to the state in which I found it.
Or perhaps their three husbands will refuse to live in it, or to come
to such a lonely place at all, and then of course its fate is sealed.
My only comfort is that husbands don't flourish in the desert, and that
the three will have to wait a long time before enough are found to go round.
Mothers tell me that it is a dreadful business finding one husband; how much
more painful then to have to look for three at once!--the babies are so nearly
the same age that they only just escaped being twins. But I won't look.
I can imagine nothing more uncomfortable than a son-in-law, and besides,
I don't think a husband is at all a good thing for a girl to have.
I shall do my best in the years at my disposal to train them so to love
the garden, and out-door life, and even farming, that, if they have a spark
of their mother in them, they will want and ask for nothing better.
My hope of success is however exceedingly small, and there is probably
a fearful period in store for me when I shall be taken every day during
the winter to the distant towns to balls--a poor old mother shivering
in broad daylight in her party gown, and being made to start after
an early lunch and not getting home till breakfast-time next morning.
Indeed, they have already developed an alarming desire to go to "partings"
as they call them, the April baby announcing her intention of beginning
to do so when she is twelve. "Are you twelve, Mummy?" she asked.
The gardener is leaving on the first of April, and I am
trying to find another. It is grievous changing so often--
in two years I shall have had three--because at each change
a great part of my plants and plans necessarily suffers.
Seeds get lost, seedlings are not pricked out in time,
places already sown are planted with something else,
and there is confusion out of doors and despair in my heart.
But he was to have married the cook, and the cook saw a ghost
and immediately left, and he is going after her as soon as he can,
and meanwhile is wasting visibly away. What she saw was doors
that are locked opening with a great clatter all by themselves
on the hingeside, and then somebody invisible cursed at her.
These phenomena now go by the name of "the ghost."
She asked to be allowed to leave at once, as she had
never been in a place where there was a ghost before.
I suggested that she should try and get used to it;
but she thought it would be wasting time, and she looked
so ill that I let her go, and the garden has to suffer.
I don't know why it should be given to cooks to see such
interesting things and withheld from me, but I have had two
others since she left, and they both have seen the ghost.
Minora grows very silent as bed-time approaches, and relents
towards Irais and myself; and, after having shown us all day
how little she approves us, when the bedroom candles are
brought she quite begins to cling. She has once or twice
anxiously inquired whether Irais is sure she does not object
to sleeping alone.
"If you are at all nervous, I will come and keep you company,"
she said; "I don't mind at all, I assure you."
But Irais is not to be taken in by such simple wiles,
and has told me she would rather sleep with fifty ghosts
than with one Minora.
Since Miss Jones was so unexpectedly called away to her
parent's bedside I have seen a good deal of the babies;
and it is so nice without a governess that I would put off
engaging another for a year or two, if it were not that I should
in so doing come within the reach of the arm of the law,
which is what every German spends his life in trying to avoid.
The April baby will be six next month, and, after her sixth
birthday is passed, we are liable at any moment to receive a visit
from a school inspector, who will inquire curiously into the state
of her education, and, if it is not up to the required standard,
all sorts of fearful things might happen to the guilty parents,
probably beginning with fines, and going on crescendo to
dungeons if, owing to gaps between governesses and difficulties
in finding the right one, we persisted in our evil courses.
Shades of the prison-house begin to close here upon the growing boy,
and prisons compass the Teuton about on every side all through
life to such an extent that he has to walk very delicately indeed
if he would stay outside them and pay for their maintenance.
Cultured individuals do not, as a rule, neglect to teach
their offspring to read, and write, and say their prayers,
and are apt to resent the intrusion of an examining inspector
into their homes; but it does not much matter after all, and I
daresay it is very good for us to be worried; indeed, a philosopher
of my acquaintance declares that people who are not regularly
and properly worried are never any good for anything.
In the eye of the law we are all sinners, and every man is held
to be guilty until he has proved that he is innocent.
Minora has seen so much of the babies that, after vainly
trying to get out of their way for several days, she thought it
better to resign herself, and make the best of it by regarding
them as copy, and using them to fill a chapter in her book.
So she took to dogging their footsteps wherever they went,
attended their uprisings and their lyings down, engaged them,
if she could, in intelligent conversation, went with them
into the garden to study their ways when they were sleighing,
drawn by a big dog, and generally made their lives a burden to them.
This went on for three days, and then she settled down to write
the result with the Man of Wrath's typewriter, borrowed whenever
her notes for any chapter have reached the state of ripeness
necessary for the process she describes as "throwing into form."
She writes everything with a typewriter, even her private letters.
"Don't forget to put in something about a mother's knee," said Irais;
"you can't write effectively about children without that."
"Oh, of course I shall mention that," replied Minora.
"And pink toes," I added. "There are always toes,
and they are never anything but pink."
"I have that somewhere," said Minora, turning over her notes.
"But, after all, babies are not a German speciality," said Irais, "and I
don't quite see why you should bring them into a book of German travels.
Elizabeth's babies have each got the fashionable number of arms and legs,
and are exactly the same as English ones."
"Oh, but they can't be just the same, you know,"
said Minora, looking worried. "It must make a difference
living here in this place, and eating such odd things,
and never having a doctor, and never being ill.
Children who have never had measles and those things can't
be quite the same as other children; it must all be in
their systems and can't get out for some reason or other.
And a child brought up on chicken and rice-pudding must be
different to a child that eats Spickgans and liver sausages.
And they are different; I can't tell in what way, but they
certainly are; and I think if I steadily describe them
from the materials I have collected the last three days,
I may perhaps hit on the points of difference."
"Why bother about points of difference?" asked Irais.
"I should write some little thing, bringing in the usual
parts of the picture, such as knees and toes, and make
it mildly pathetic."
"But it is by no means an easy thing for me to do,"
said Minora plaintively; "I have so little experience of children."
"Then why write it at all?" asked that sensible person Elizabeth.
"I have as little experience as you," said Irais, "because I
have no children; but if you don't yearn after startling originality,
nothing is easier than to write bits about them. I believe I could
do a dozen in an hour."
She sat down at the writing-table, took up an old letter,
and scribbled for about five minutes. "There," she said, throwing it
to Minora, "you may have it--pink toes and all complete."
Minora put on her eye-glasses and read aloud:
"When my baby shuts her eyes and sings her hymns at
bed-time my stale and battered soul is filled with awe.
All sorts of vague memories crowd into my mind--
memories of my own mother and myself--how many years ago!--
of the sweet helplessness of being gathered up half asleep in
her arms, and undressed, and put in my cot, without being wakened;
of the angels I believed in; of little children coming straight
from heaven, and still being surrounded, so long as they were good,
by the shadow of white wings,--all the dear poetic nonsense learned,
just as my baby is learning it, at her mother's knee.
She has not an idea of the beauty of the charming things
she is told, and stares wide-eyed, with heavenly eyes,
while her mother talks of the heaven she has so lately come from,
and is relieved and comforted by the interrupting bread and milk.
At two years old she does not understand angels, and does
understand bread and milk; at five she has vague notions
about them, and prefers bread and milk; at ten both bread
and milk and angels have been left behind in the nursery,
and she has already found out that they are luxuries not necessary
to her everyday life. In later years she may be disinclined
to accept truths second-hand, insist on thinking for herself,
be earnest in her desire to shake off exploded traditions,
be untiring in her efforts to live according to a high
moral standard and to be strong, and pure, and good--"
"Like tea," explained Irais.
"--yet will she never, with all her virtues, possess one-thousandth
part of the charm that clung about her when she sang, with quiet eyelids,
her first reluctant hymns, kneeling on her mother's knees.
I love to come in at bed-time and sit in the window in the
setting sunshine watching the mysteries of her going to bed.
Her mother tubs her, for she is far too precious to be touched
by any nurse, and then she is rolled up in a big bath towel,
and only her little pink toes peep out; and when she is powdered,
and combed, and tied up in her night-dress, and all her curls are
on end, and her ears glowing, she is knelt down on her mother's lap,
a little bundle of fragrant flesh, and her face reflects the quiet
of her mother's face as she goes through her evening prayer for pity
and for peace."
"How very curious!" said Minora, when she had finished.
"That is exactly what I was going to say."
"Oh, then I have saved you the trouble of putting it together;
you can copy that if you like."
"But have you a stale soul, Miss Minora?" I asked.
"Well, do you know, I rather think that is a good touch,"
she replied; "it will make people really think a man wrote the book.
You know I am going to take a man's name."
"That is precisely what I imagined," said Irais.
"You will call yourself John Jones, or George Potts,
or some such sternly commonplace name, to emphasise your
uncompromising attitude towards all feminine weaknesses,
and no one will be taken in."
"I really think, Elizabeth," said Irais to me later,
when the click of Minora's typewriter was heard hesitating
in the next room, "that you and I are writing her book for her.
She takes down everything we say. Why does she copy all
that about the baby? I wonder why mothers' knees are supposed
to be touching? I never learned anything at them, did you?
But then in my case they were only stepmother's, and nobody
ever sings their praises."
"My mother was always at parties," I said; "and the nurse made me
say my prayers in French."
"And as for tubs and powder," went on Irais, "when I
was a baby such things were not the fashion. There were never
any bathrooms, and no tubs; our faces and hands were washed,
and there was a foot-bath in the room, and in the summer we had
a bath and were put to bed afterwards for fear we might catch cold.
My stepmother didn't worry much; she used to wear pink dresses
all over lace, and the older she got the prettier the dresses got.
When is she going?"
"Who? Minora? I haven't asked her that."
"Then I will. It is really bad for her art to be neglected like this.
She has been here an unconscionable time,--it must be nearly three weeks."
"Yes, she came the same day you did," I said pleasantly.
Irais was silent. I hope she was reflecting that it
is not worse to neglect one's art than one's husband, and her
husband is lying all this time stretched on a bed of sickness,
while she is spending her days so agreeably with me.
She has a way of forgetting that she has a home, or any other business
in the world than just to stay on chatting with me, and reading,
and singing, and laughing at any one there is to laugh at,
and kissing the babies, and tilting with the Man of Wrath.
Naturally I love her--she is so pretty that anybody with eyes
in his head must love her--but too much of anything is bad,
and next month the passages and offices are to be whitewashed,
and people who have ever whitewashed their houses inside know
what nice places they are to live in while it is being done;
and there will be no dinner for Irais, and none of those succulent
salads full of caraway seeds that she so devotedly loves.
I shall begin to lead her thoughts gently back to her duties
by inquiring every day anxiously after her husband's health.
She is not very fond of him, because he does not run and hold
the door open for her every time she gets up to leave the room;
and though she has asked him to do so, and told him how much
she wishes he would, he still won't. She stayed once in a house
where there was an Englishman, and his nimbleness in regard
to doors and chairs so impressed her that her husband has
had no peace since, and each time she has to go out of a room
she is reminded of her disregarded wishes, so that a shut
door is to her symbolic of the failure of her married life,
and the very sight of one makes her wonder why she was born;
at least, that is what she told me once, in a burst of confidence.
He is quite a nice, harmless little man, pleasant to talk to,
good-tempered, and full of fun ; but he thinks he is too old
to begin to learn new and uncomfortable ways, and he has
that horror of being made better by his wife that distinguishes
so many righteous men, and is shared by the Man of Wrath,
who persists in holding his glass in his left hand at meals,
because if he did not (and I don't believe he particularly
likes doing it) his relations might say that marriage has
improved him, and thus drive the iron into his soul.
This habit occasions an almost daily argument between one
or other of the babies and myself.
"April, hold your glass in your right hand."
"But papa doesn't."
"When you are as old as papa you can do as you like."
Which was embellished only yesterday by Minora adding impressively,
"And only think how strange it would look if everybody held their glasses so."
April was greatly struck by the force of this proposition.
January 28th.--It is very cold,--fifteen degrees of frost Reaumur,
but perfectly delicious, still, bright weather, and one feels
jolly and energetic and amiably disposed towards everybody.
The two young ladies are still here, but the air is so buoyant
that even they don't weigh on me any longer, and besides, they have
both announced their approaching departure, so that after all I
shall get my whitewashing done in peace, and the house will have
on its clean pinafore in time to welcome the spring.
Minora has painted my portrait, and is going to present it as a
parting gift to the Man of Wrath; and the fact that I let her do it,
and sat meekly times innumerable, proves conclusively, I hope,
that I am not vain. When Irais first saw it she laughed till she cried,
and at once commissioned her to paint hers, so that she may take it
away with her and give it to her husband on his birthday, which happens
to be early in February. Indeed, if it were not for this birthday,
I really think she would have forgotten to go at all; but birthdays are
great and solemn festivals with us, never allowed to slip by unnoticed,
and always celebrated in the presence of a sympathetic crowd of relations
(gathered from far and near to tell you how well you are wearing,
and that nobody would ever dream, and that really it is wonderful),
who stand round a sort of sacrificial altar, on which your years
are offered up as a burnt-offering to the gods in the shape of lighted
pink and white candles, stuck in a very large, flat, jammy cake.
The cake with its candles is the chief feature, and on the table round
it lie the gifts each person present is more or less bound to give.
As my birthday falls in the winter I get mittens as well as
blotting-books and photograph-frames, and if it were in the summer
I should get photograph-frames and blotting-books and no mittens;
but whatever the present may be, and by whomsoever given, it has to be
welcomed with the noisiest gratitude, and loudest exclamations of joy,
and such words as entzuckend, reizend, herrlich, wundervoll, and suss
repeated over and over again, until the unfortunate Geburtstagskind
feels indeed that another year has gone, and that she has grown older,
and wiser, and more tired of folly and of vain repetitions.
A flag is hoisted, and all the morning the rites are celebrated,
the cake eaten, healths drunk, speeches made, and hands nearly shaken off.
The neighbouring parsons drive up, and when nobody is looking their wives
count the candles in the cake; the active lady in the next Schlass spares
time to send a pot of flowers, and to look up my age in the Gotha Almanach;
a deputation comes from the farms headed by the chief inspector in white
kid gloves who invokes Heaven's blessings on the gracious lady's head;
and the babies are enchanted, and sit in a corner trying on all the mittens.
In the evening there is a dinner for the relations and the chief local
authorities, with more health-drinking and speechifying, and the next morning,
when I come downstairs thankful to have done with it, I am confronted
by the altar still in its place, cake crumbs and candle-grease and all,
because any hasty removal of it would imply a most lamentable want
of sentiment, deplorable in anybody, but scandalous and disgusting
in a tender female. All birthdays are observed in this fashion, and not
a few wise persons go for a short trip just about the time theirs is due,
and I think I shall imitate them next year; only trips to the country
or seaside in December are not usually pleasant, and if I go to a town
there are sure to be relations in it, and then the cake will spring up
mushroom-like from the teeming soil of their affection.
I hope it has been made evident in these pages how superior Irais
and myself are to the ordinary weaknesses of mankind; if any further
proof were needed, it is furnished by the fact that we both,
in defiance of tradition, scorn this celebration of birthday rites.
Years ago, when first I knew her, and long before we were either
of us married, I sent her a little brass candlestick on her birthday;
and when mine followed a few months later, she sent me a note-book. No
notes were written in it, and on her next birthday I presented it to her;
she thanked me profusely in the customary manner, and when my turn came
I received the brass candlestick. Since then we alternately enjoy
the possession of each of these articles, and the present question is
comfortably settled once and for all, at a minimum of trouble and expense.
We never mention this little arrangement except at the proper time,
when we send a letter of fervid thanks.
This radiant weather, when mere living is a joy,
and sitting still over the fire out of the question, has been
going on for more than a week. Sleighing and skating have been
our chief occupation, especially skating, which is more than
usually fascinating here, because the place is intersected
by small canals communicating with a lake and the river belonging
to the lake, and as everything is frozen black and hard,
we can skate for miles straight ahead without being obliged
to turn round and come back again,--at all times an annoying,
and even mortifying, proceeding. Irais skates beautifully:
modesty is the only obstacle to my saying the same of myself;
but I may remark that all Germans skate well, for the simple
reason that every year of their lives, for three or four months,
they may do it as much as they like. Minora was astonished
and disconcerted by finding herself left behind, and arriving at
the place where tea meets us half an hour after we had finished.
In some places the banks of the canals are so high that only our
heads appear level with the fields, and it is, as Minora noted
in her book, a curious sight to see three female heads skimming
along apparently by themselves, and enjoying it tremendously.
When the banks are low, we appear to be gliding deliciously
over the roughest ploughed fields, with or without legs
according to circumstances. Before we start, I fix on the place
where tea and a sleigh are to meet us, and we drive home again;
because skating against the wind is as detestable as skating
with it is delightful, and an unkind Nature arranges its blowing
without the smallest regard for our convenience.
Yesterday, by way of a change, we went for a picnic to
the shores of the Baltic, ice-bound at this season, and utterly
desolate at our nearest point. I have a weakness for picnics,
especially in winter, when the mosquitoes cease from troubling
and the ant-hills are at rest; and of all my many favourite
picnic spots this one on the Baltic is the loveliest and best.
As it is a three-hours' drive, the Man of Wrath is loud in his
lamentations when the special sort of weather comes which means,
as experience has taught him, this particular excursion.
There must be deep snow, hard frost, no wind, and a cloudless sky;
and when, on waking up, I see these conditions fulfilled,
then it would need some very potent reason to keep me from
having out a sleigh and going off. It is, I admit, a hard day
for the horses; but why have horses if they are not to take
you where you want to go to, and at the time you want to go?
And why should not horses have hard days as well as everybody else?
The Man of Wrath loathes picnics, and has no eye for nature
and frozen seas, and is simply bored by a long drive
through a forest that does not belong to him ; a single
turnip on his own place is more admirable in his eyes than
the tallest, pinkest, straightest pine that ever reared
its snow-crowned head against the setting sunlight.
Now observe the superiority of woman, who sees that both
are good, and after having gazed at the pine and been made
happy by its beauty, goes home and placidly eats the turnip.
He went once and only once to this particular place, and made us
feel so small by his blast behaviour that I never invite him now.
It is a beautiful spot, endless forest stretching along the shore
as far as the eye can reach; and after driving through it for miles
you come suddenly, at the end of an avenue of arching trees,
upon the glistening, oily sea, with the orange-coloured
sails of distant fishing-smacks shilling in the sunlight.
Whenever I have been there it has been windless weather,
and the silence so profound that I could hear my pulses beating.
The humming of insects and the sudden scream of a jay are
the only sounds in summer, and in winter the stillness is
the stillness of death.
Every paradise has its serpent, however, and this one is
so infested by mosquitoes during the season when picnics seem
most natural, that those of my visitors who have been taken
there for a treat have invariably lost their tempers, and made
the quiet shores ring with their wailing and lamentations.
These despicable but irritating insects don't seem to have anything
to do but to sit in multitudes on the sand, waiting for any prey
Providence may send them; and as soon as the carriage appears
they rise up in a cloud, and rush to meet us, almost dragging
us out bodily, and never leave us until we drive away again.
The sudden view of the sea from the messy, pine-covered height
directly above it where we picnic; the wonderful stretch
of lonely shore with the forest to the water's edge;
the coloured sails in the blue distance; the freshness,
the brightness, the vastness--all is lost upon the picnickers,
and made worse than indifferent to them, by the perpetual
necessity they are under of fighting these horrid creatures.
It is nice being the only person who ever goes there or shows
it to anybody, but if more people went, perhaps the mosquitoes
would be less lean, and hungry, and pleased to see us.
It has, however, the advantage of being a suitable place
to which to take refractory visitors when they have stayed
too long, or left my books out in the garden all night,
or otherwise made their presence a burden too grievous
to be borne; then one fine hot morning when they are all
looking limp, I suddenly propose a picnic on the Baltic.
I have never known this proposal fail to be greeted
with exclamations of surprise and delight.
"The Baltic! You never told us you were within driving distance?
How heavenly to get a breath of sea air on a day like this!
The very thought puts new life into one! And how delightful to see
the Baltic! Oh, please take us!" And then I take them.
But on a brilliant winter's day my conscience is
as clear as the frosty air itself, and yesterday morning
we started off in the gayest of spirits, even Minora being
disposed to laugh immoderately on the least provocation.
Only our eyes were allowed to peep out from the fur and
woollen wrappings necessary to our heads if we would come
back with our ears and noses in the same places they were
in when we started, and for the first two miles the mirth
created by each other's strange appearance was uproarious,--
a fact I mention merely to show what an effect dry, bright,
intense cold produces on healthy bodies, and how much better it
is to go out in it and enjoy it than to stay indoors and sulk.
As we passed through the neighbouring village with cracking
of whip and jingling of bells, heads popped up at the windows
to stare, and the only living thing in the silent,
sunny street was a melancholy fowl with ruffled feathers,
which looked at us reproachfully, as we dashed with so much
energy over the crackling snow.
"Oh, foolish bird!" Irais called out as we passed;
"you'll be indeed a cold fowl if you stand there motionless,
and every one prefers them hot in weather like this!"
And then we all laughed exceedingly, as though the most splendid
joke had been made, and before we had done we were out of the village
and in the open country beyond, and could see my house and garden
far away behind, glittering in the sunshine; and in front of us lay
the forest, with its vistas of pines stretching away into infinity,
and a drive through it of fourteen miles before we reached the sea.
It was a hoar-frost day, and the forest was an enchanted forest leading
into fairyland, and though Irais and I have been there often before,
and always thought it beautiful, yet yesterday we stood under the final
arch of frosted trees, struck silent by the sheer loveliness of the place.
For a long way out the sea was frozen, and then there was a deep blue line,
and a cluster of motionless orange sails; at our feet a narrow strip
of pale yellow sand; right and left the line of sparkling forest;
and we ourselves standing in a world of white and diamond traceries.
The stillness of an eternal Sunday lay on the place like a benediction.
Minora broke the silence by remarking that Dresden was pretty,
but she thought this beat it almost.
"I don't quite see," said Irais in a hushed voice, as though
she were in a holy place,"how the two can be compared."
"Yes, Dresden is more convenient, of course," replied Minora;
after which we turned away and thought we would keep her quiet
by feeding her, so we went back to the sleigh and had the horses
taken out and their cloths put on, and they were walked up and
down a distant glade while we sat in the sleigh and picnicked.
It is a hard day for the horses,--nearly thirty miles there and back
and no stable in the middle; but they are so fat and spoiled that it
cannot do them much harm sometimes to taste the bitterness of life.
I warmed soup in a little apparatus I have for such occasions,
which helped to take the chilliness off the sandwiches,--this is
the only unpleasant part of a winter picnic, the clammy quality of
the provisions just when you most long for something very hot.
Minora let her nose very carefully out of its wrappings,
took a mouthful, and covered it up quickly again. She was nervous
lest it should be frost-nipped, and truth compels me to add that her
nose is not a bad nose, and might even be pretty on anybody else;
but she does not know how to carry it, and there is an art in
the angle at which one's nose is held just as in everything else,
and really noses were intended for something besides mere blowing.
It is the most difficult thing in the world to eat sandwiches
with immense fur and woollen gloves on, and I think we ate almost
as much fur as anything, and choked exceedingly during the process.
Minora was angry at this, and at last pulled off her glove,
but quickly put it on again.
"How very unpleasant," she remarked after swallowing a large
piece of fur.
"It will wrap round your pipes, and keep them warm," said Irais.
"Pipes!" echoed Minora, greatly disgusted by such vulgarity.
"I'm afraid I can't help you," I said, as she continued
to choke and splutter; "we are all in the same case, and I
don't know how to alter it."
"There are such things as forks, I suppose," snapped Minora.
"That's true," said I, crushed by the obviousness of the remedy;
but of what use are forks if they are fifteen miles off?
So Minora had to continue to eat her gloves.
By the time we had finished, the sun was already low behind
the trees and the clouds beginning to flush a faint pink.
The old coachman was given sandwiches and soup, and while he led
the horses up and down with one hand and held his lunch in the other,
we packed up--or, to be correct, I packed, and the others looked
on and gave me valuable advice.
This coachman, Peter by name, is seventy years old, and was
born on the place, and has driven its occupants for fifty years,
and I am nearly as fond of him as I am of the sun-dial;
indeed, I don't know what I should do without him, so entirely
does he appear to understand and approve of my tastes and wishes.
No drive is too long or difficult for the horses if I want
to take it, no place impossible to reach if I want to go to it,
no weather or roads too bad to prevent my going out if I wish to:
to all my suggestions he responds with the readiest cheerfulness,
and smoothes away all objections raised by the Man of Wrath,
who rewards his alacrity in doing my pleasure by speaking
of him as an alter Esel. In the summer, on fine evenings,
I love to drive late and alone in the scented forests,
and when I have reached a dark part stop, and sit quite still,
listening to the nightingales repeating their little tune
over and over again after interludes of gurgling, or if there
are no nightingales, listening to the marvellous silence,
and letting its blessedness descend into my very soul.
The nightingales in the forests about here all sing the same tune,
and in the same key of (E flat).
I don't know whether all nightingales do this, or if it is
peculiar to this particular spot. When they have sung it once,
they clear their throats a little, and hesitate, and then do it again,
and it is the prettiest little song in the world. How could I
indulge my passion for these drives with their pauses without Peter?
He is so used to them that he stops now at the right moment without
having to be told, and he is ready to drive me all night if I wish it,
with no sign of anything but cheerful willingness on his nice old face.
The Man of Wrath deplores these eccentric tastes, as he calls them,
of mine; but has given up trying to prevent my indulging
them because, while he is deploring in one part of the house,
I have slipped out at a door in the other, and am gone before he can
catch me, and have reached and am lost in the shadows of the forest
by the time he has discovered that I am nowhere to be found.
The brightness of Peter's perfections are sullied however
by one spot, and that is, that as age creeps upon him, he not
only cannot hold the horses in if they don't want to be held in,
but he goes to sleep sometimes on his box if I have him out too
soon after lunch, and has upset me twice within the last year--
once last winter out of a sleigh, and once this summer,
when the horses shied at a bicycle, and bolted into the ditch on
one side of the chaussee (German for high road), and the bicycle
was so terrified at the horses shying that it shied too into
the ditch on the other side, and the carriage was smashed,
and the bicycle was smashed, and we were all very unhappy,
except Peter, who never lost his pleasant smile, and looked
so placid that my tongue clave to the roof of my mouth when I
tried to make it scold him.
"But I should think he ought to have been thoroughly scolded
on an occasion like that," said Minora, to whom I had been telling
this story as we wandered on the yellow sands while the horses
were being put in the sleigh; and she glanced nervously up at Peter,
whose mild head was visible between the bushes above us.
"Shall we get home before dark?" she asked.
The sun had altogether disappeared behind the pines and only the very
highest of the little clouds were still pink; out at sea the mists were
creeping up, and the sails of the fishing-smacks had turned a dull brown;
a flight of wild geese passed across the disc of the moon with loud cacklings.
"Before dark?" echoed Irais, "I should think not.
It is dark now nearly in the forest, and we shall have
the loveliest moonlight drive back."
"But it is surely very dangerous to let a man who goes
to sleep drive you," said Minora apprehensively.
"But he's such an old dear," I said.
"Yes, yes, no doubt," she replied tastily; ,"but there are wakeful old
dears to be had, and on a box they are preferable."
Irais laughed. "You are growing quite amusing, Miss Minora," she said.
"He isn't on a box to-day," said I; "and I never knew him to go
to sleep standing up behind us on a sleigh."
But Minora was not to be appeased, and muttered something about
seeing no fun in foolhardiness, which shows how alarmed she was,
for it was rude.
Peter, however, behaved beautifully on the way home,
and Irais and I at least were as happy as possible driving back,
with all the glories of the western sky flashing at us every
now and then at the end of a long avenue as we swiftly passed,
and later on, when they had faded, myriads of stars in the narrow
black strip of sky over our heads. It was bitterly cold,
and Minora was silent, and not in the least inclined to laugh
with us as she had been six hours before.
"Have you enjoyed yourself, Miss Minora?' inquired Irais,
as we got out of the forest on to the chaussee, and the lights
of the village before ours twinkled in the distance.
"How many degrees do you suppose there are now?"
was Minora's reply to this question.
"Degrees?--Of frost? Oh, dear me, are you cold,"
cried Irais solicitously.
"Well, it isn't exactly warm, is it?" said Minora sulkily;
and Irais pinched me. "Well, but think how much colder you would
have been without all that fur you ate for lunch inside you,"
"And what a nice chapter you will be able to write about the Baltic,"
said I. "Why, it is practically certain that you are the first English person
who has ever been to just this part of it."
"Isn't there some English poem," said Irais, "about being
the first who ever burst--"
"'Into that silent sea,'" finished Minora hastily.
"You can't quote that without its context, you know."
"But I wasn't going to," said Irais meekly; "I only paused to breathe.
I must breathe, or perhaps I might die."
The lights from my energetic friend's Schloss shone brightly down
upon us as we passed round the base of the hill on which it stands;
she is very proud of this hill, as well she may be, seeing that it
is the only one in the whole district.
"Do you never go there?" asked Minora, jerking her head
in the direction of the house.
"Sometimes. She is a very busy woman, and I should feel
I was in the way if I went often."
"It would be interesting to see another North German interior,"
said Minora; "and I should be obliged if you would take me.
"But I can't fall upon her suddenly with a strange girl," I protested;
"and we are not at all on such intimate terms as to justify my taking
all my visitors to see her."
"What do you want to see another interior for?" asked Irais.
"I can tell you what it is like; and if you went nobody would speak
to you, and if you were to ask questions, and began to take notes,
the good lady would stare at you in the frankest amazement,
and think Elizabeth had brought a young lunatic out for an airing.
Everybody is not as patient as Elizabeth," added Irais, anxious to pay
off old scores.
"I would do a great deal for you, Miss Minora," I said,
"but I can't do that."
"If we went," said Irais, "Elizabeth and I would
be placed with great ceremony on a sofa behind a large,
polished oval table with a crochetmat in the centre--
it has got a crochet-mat in the centre, hasn't it.?" I nodded.
"And you would sit on one of the four little podgy, buttony,
tasselly red chairs that are ranged on the other side of the table
facing the sofa. They are red, Elizabeth?" Again I nodded.
"The floor is painted yellow, and there is no carpet except
a rug in front of the sofa. The paper is dark chocolate colour,
almost black; that is in order that after years of use the dirt
may not show, and the room need not be done up.
Dirt is like wickedness, you see, Miss Minora--its being
there never matters; it is only when it shows so much
as to be apparent to everybody that we are ashamed of it.
At intervals round the high walls are chairs, and cabinets with
lamps on them, and in one corner is a great white cold stove--
or is it majolica?" she asked, turning to me.
"No, it is white."
"There are a great many lovely big windows, all ready to let
in the air and the sun, but they are as carefully covered with brown
lace curtains under heavy stuff ones as though a whole row of houses
were just opposite, with peering eyes at every window trying to look in,
instead of there only being fields, and trees, and birds. No fire,
no sunlight, no books, no flowers; but a consoling smell of red cabbage
coming up under the door, mixed, in due season, with soapsuds."
"When did you go there?" asked Minora.
"Ah, when did I go there indeed? When did I not go there?
I have been calling there all my life."
Minora's eyes rolled doubtfully first at me then at Irais from the depths
of her head-wrappings; they are large eyes with long dark eyelashes,
and far be it from me to deny that each eye taken by itself is fine,
but they are put in all wrong.
"The only thing you would learn there," went on Irais, "would be
the significance of sofa corners in Germany. If we three went
there together, I should be ushered into the right-hand corner of the sofa,
because it is the place of honour, and I am the greatest stranger;
Elizabeth would be invited to seat herself in the left-hand corner,
as next in importance; the hostess would sit near us in an arm-chair;
and you, as a person of no importance whatever, would either be
left to sit where you could, or would be put on a chair facing us,
and with the entire breadth of the table between us to mark the immense
social gulf that separates the married woman from the mere virgin.
These sofa corners make the drawing of nice distinctions possible
in a way that nothing else could. The world might come to an end,
and create less sensation in doing it, than you would, Miss Minora,
if by any chance you got into the right-hand corner of one.
That you are put on a chair on the other side of the table places
you at once in the scale of precedence, and exactly defines your
social position, or rather your complete want of a social position."
And Irais tilted her nose ever so little heavenwards.
"Note it," she added, "as the heading of your next chapter."
"Note what?" asked Minora impatiently.
"Why,'The Subtle Significance of Sofas', of course," replied Irais.
"If," she continued, as Minora made no reply appreciative of this suggestion,
"you were to call unexpectedly, the bad luck which pursues the innocent
would most likely make you hit on a washing-day, and the distracted mistress
of the house would keep you waiting in the cold room so long while she
changed her dress, that you would begin to fear you were to be left to perish
from want and hunger; and when she did appear, would show by the bitterness
of her welcoming smile the rage that was boiling in her heart."
"But what has the mistress of the house to do with washing? "
"What has she to do with washing? Oh, you sweet innocent--
pardon my familiarity, but such ignorance of country-life customs
is very touching in one who is writing a book about them. "
"Oh, I have no doubt I am very ignorant," said Minora loftily.
"Seasons of washing," explained Irais, "are seasons set apart
by the Hausfrau to be kept holy. They only occur every two or three months,
and while they are going on the whole house is in an uproar, every other
consideration sacrificed, husband and children sunk into insignificance,
and no one approaching, or interfering with the mistress of the house during
these days of purification, but at their peril."
"You Don't Really Mean," Said Minora, "that You Only Wash Your Clothes
Four Times A Year?
"Yes, I do mean it," replied Irais.
"Well, I think that is very disgusting," said Minora emphatically.
Irais raised those pretty, delicate eyebrows of hers.
"Then you must take care and not marry a German," she said.
"But what is the object of it?" went on Minora.
"Why, to clean the linen, I suppose."
"Yes, yes, but why only at such long intervals?"
"It is an outward and visible sign of vast possessions in the shape
of linen. If you were to want to have your clothes washed every week,
as you do in England, you would be put down as a person who only has
just enough to last that length of time, and would be an object
of general contempt."
"But I should be a clean object," cried Minora, "and my house
would not be full of accumulated dirt."
We said nothing--there was nothing to be said.
"It must be a happy land, that England of yours,"
Irais remarked after a while with a sigh--a beatific vision no
doubt presenting itself to her mind of a land full of washerwomen
and agile gentlemen darting at door-handles.
"It is a clean land, at any rate," replied Minora.
"I don't want to go and live in it," I said--for we were
driving up to the house, and a memory of fogs and umbrellas came
into my mind as I looked up fondly at its dear old west front,
and I felt that what I want is to live and die just here,
and that there never was such a happy woman as Elizabeth.