Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344


It is not pleasant when you have had your say, made your point to your
own satisfaction, and gone cheerfully on to some fresh subject, to be
assailed with the suspicion that your interlocutor is saying mentally:
All very well--very pretty talk, no doubt, but you haven't convinced
me, and I even doubt that you have succeeded in convincing yourself!

For example, a reader of the foregoing notes may say: "If you really
find all this beauty and charm and fascination you tell us in some
little girls, you must love them. You can't admire and take delight in
them as you can in a piece of furniture, or tapestry, or a picture or
statue or a stone of great brilliancy and purity of colour, or in any
beautiful inanimate object, without that emotion coming in to make
itself part of and one with your admiration. You can't, simply because
a child is a human being, and we do not want to lose sight of the being
we love. So long as the love lasts, the eye would follow its steps
because--we are what we are, and a mere image in the mind doesn't
satisfy the heart. Love is never satisfied, and asks not for less and
less each day but for more--always for more. Then, too, love is
credulous; it believes and imagines all things and, like all emotions,
it pushes reason and experience aside and sticks to the belief that
these beautiful qualities cannot die and leave nothing behind: they are
not on the surface only; they have their sweet permanent roots in the
very heart and centre of being."

That, I suppose, is the best argument on the other side, and if you
look straight at it for six seconds, you will see it dissolve like a
lump of sugar in a tumbler of water and disappear under your very eyes.
For the fact remains that when I listen to the receding footsteps of my
little charmer, the sigh that escapes me expresses something of relief
as well as regret. The signs of change have perhaps not yet appeared,
and I wish not to see them. Good-bye, little one, we part in good time,
and may we never meet again! Undoubtedly one loses something, but it
cannot balance the gain. The loss in any case was bound to come, and
had I waited for it no gain would have been possible. As it is, I am
like that man in _The Pilgrim's Progress_, by some accounted mad,
who the more he cast away the more he had. And the way of it is this;
by losing my little charmers before they cease from charming, I make
them mine for always, in a sense. They are made mine because my mind
(other minds, too) is made that way. That which I see with delight I
continue to see when it is no more there, and will go on seeing to the
end: at all events I fail to detect any sign of decay or fading in
these mind pictures. There are people with money who collect gems--
diamonds, rubies and other precious stones--who value their treasures
as their best possessions, and take them out from time to time to
examine and gloat over them. These things are trash to me compared with
the shining, fadeless images in my mind, which are my treasures and
best possessions. But the bright and beauteous images of the little
girl charmers would not have been mine if instead of letting the
originals disappear from my ken I had kept them too long in it. All
because our minds, our memories are made like that. If we see a thing
once, or several times, we see it ever after as we first saw it; if we
go on seeing it every day or every week for years and years, we do not
register a countless series of new distinct impressions, recording all
its changes: the new impressions fall upon and obliterate the others,
and it is like a series of photographs, not arranged side by side for
future inspection, but in a pile, the top one alone remaining visible.
Looking at this insipid face you would not believe, if told, that once
upon a time it was beautiful to you and had a great charm. The early
impressions are lost, the charm forgotten.

This reminds me of the incident I set out to narrate when I wrote
"Dimples" at the head of this note. I was standing at a busy corner in
a Kensington thoroughfare waiting for a bus, when a group of three
ladies appeared and came to a stand a yard or two from me and waited,
too, for the traffic to pass before attempting to cross to the other
side. One was elderly and feeble and was holding the arm of another of
the trio, who was young and pretty. Her age was perhaps twenty; she was
of medium height, slim, with a nice figure and nicely dressed. She was
a blonde, with light blue-grey eyes and fluffy hair of pale gold: there
was little colour in her face, but the features were perfect and the
mouth with its delicate curves quite beautiful.

But after regarding her attentively for a minute or so, looking out
impatiently for my bus at the same time, I said mentally: "Yes, you are
certainly very pretty, perhaps beautiful, but I don't like you and I
don't want you. There's nothing in you to correspond to that nice
outside. You are an exception to the rule that the beautiful is the
good. Not that you are bad--actively, deliberately bad--you haven't the
strength to be that or anything else; you have only a little shallow
mind and a little coldish heart."

Now I can imagine one of my lady readers crying out: "How dared you say
such monstrous things of any person after just a glance at her face?"

Listen to me, madam, and you will agree that I was not to blame for
saying these monstrous things. All my life I've had the instinct or
habit of seeing the things I see; that is to say, seeing them not as
cloud or mist-shapes for ever floating past, nor as people in endless
procession "seen rather than distinguished," but distinctly,
separately, as individuals each with a character and soul of its very
own; and while seeing it in that way some little unnamed faculty in
some obscure corner of my brain hastily scribbles a label to stick on
to the object or person before it passes out of sight. It can't be
prevented; it goes on automatically; it isn't _me_, and I can no
more interfere or attempt in any way to restrain or regulate its action
than I can take my legs to task for running up a flight of steps
without the mind's supervision.

But I haven't finished with the young lady yet. I had no sooner said
what I have said and was just about to turn my eyes away and forget all
about her, when, in response to some remarks of her aged companion, she
laughed, and in laughing so great a change came into her face that it
was as if she had been transformed into another being. It was like a
sudden breath of wind and a sunbeam falling on the still cold surface
of a woodland pool. The eyes, icily cold a moment before, had warm
sunlight in them, and the half-parted lips with a flash of white teeth
between them had gotten a new beauty; and most remarkable of all was a
dimple which appeared and in its swift motions seemed to have a life of
its own, flitting about the corner of the mouth, then further away to
the middle of the cheek and back again. A dimple that had a story to
tell. For dimples, too, like a delicate, mobile mouth, and even like
eyes, have a character of their own. And no sooner had I seen that
sudden change in the expression, and especially the dimple, than I knew
the face; it was a face I was familiar with and was like no other face
in the world, yet I could not say who she was nor where and when I had
known her! Then, when the smile faded and the dimple vanished, she was
a stranger again--the pretty young person with the shallow brain that I
did not like!

Naturally my mind worried itself with this puzzle of a being with two
distinct expressions, one strange to me, the other familiar, and it
went on worrying me all that day until I could stand it no longer, and
to get rid of the matter, I set up the theory (which didn't quite
convince me) that the momentary expression I had seen was like an
expression in some one I had known in the far past. But after
dismissing the subject in that way, the subconscious mind was still no
doubt working at it, for two days later it all at once flashed into my
mind that my mysterious young lady was no other than the little Lillian
I had known so well eight years before! She was ten years old when I
first knew her, and I was quite intimately acquainted with her for a
little over a year, and greatly admired her for her beauty and charm,
especially when she smiled and that dimple flew about the corner of her
mouth like a twilight moth vaguely fluttering at the rim of a red
flower. But alas! her charm was waning: she was surrounded by relations
who adored her, and was intensely self-conscious, so that when after a
year her people moved to a new district, I was not sorry to break the
connection, and to forget all about her.

Now that I had seen and remembered her again, it was a consolation to
think that she was already in her decline when I first knew and was
attracted by her and on that account had never wholly lost my heart to
her. How different my feelings would have been if after pronouncing
that irrevocable judgment, I had recognised one of my vanished
darlings--one, say, like that child on Cromer Beach, or of dozens of
other fairylike little ones I have known and loved, and whose images
are enduring and sacred!

W. H. Hudson