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Strangers Yet


The man who composed that familiar delightful rhyme about blue eyes and
black, and how you are to beware of the hidden knife in the one case
and of a different sort of danger which may threaten you in the other,
must have lived a good long time ago, or else be a very old man. Oh, so
old, thousands of years, thousands of years, if all were told. And he,
when he exhibited such impartiality, must have had other-coloured eyes
himself. Most probably the sheep and goat eye, one which no person in
his senses--except an anthropologist--can classify as either dark or
light. It is that marmalade yellow, excessively rare in this country,
but not very uncommon in persons of Spanish race. For who at this day,
this age, after the mixing together of the hostile races has been going
on these twenty centuries or longer, can believe that any inherited or
instinctive animosity can still survive? If we do find such a feeling
here and there, would it not be more reasonable to regard it as an
individual antipathy, or as a prejudice, imbibed early in life from
parents or others, which endures in spite of reason, long after its
origin had been forgotten?

Nevertheless, one does meet with cases from time to time which do throw
a slight shadow of doubt on the mind, and of several I have met I will
here relate one.

At an hotel on the South Coast I met a Miss Browne, which is not her
name, and I rather hope this sketch will not be read by anyone nearly
related to her, as they might identify her from the description. A
middle-aged lady with a brown skin, black hair and dark eyes, an oval
face, fairly good-looking, her manner lively and attractive, her
movements quick without being abrupt or jerky. She was highly
intelligent and a good talker, with more to say than most women, and
better able than most to express herself. We were at the same small
table and got on well together, as I am a good listener and she knew--
being a woman, how should she not?--that she interested me. One day at
our table the conversation happened to be about the races of men and
the persistence of racial characteristics, physical and mental, in
persons of mixed descent. The subject interested her. "What would you
call me?" she asked.

"An Iberian," I returned.

She laughed and said: "This makes the third time I have been called an
Iberian, so perhaps it is true, and I'm curious to know what an Iberian
is, and why I'm called an Iberian. Is it because I have something of a
Spanish look?"

I answered that the Iberians were the ancient Britons, a dark-eyed,
brown-skinned people who inhabited this country and all Southern Europe
before the invasion of the blue-eyed races; that doubtless there had
been an Iberian mixture in her ancestors, perhaps many centuries ago,
and that these peculiar characters had come out strongly in her; she
had the peculiar kind of blood in her veins and the peculiar sort of
soul which goes with the blood.

"But what a mystery it is!" she exclaimed. "I am the only small one in
a family of tall sisters. My parents were both tall and light, and the
others took after them. I was small and dark, and they were tall
blondes with blue eyes and pale gold hair. And in disposition I was
unlike them as in physique. How do you account for it?"

It was a long question, I said, and I had told her all I could about
it. I couldn't go further into it; I was too ignorant. I had just
touched on the subject in one of my books. It was in other books, with
reference to a supposed antagonism which still survives in blue-eyed
and dark-eyed people.

She asked me to give her the titles of the books I spoke of. "You
imagine, I daresay," she said, "that it is mere idle curiosity on my
part. It isn't so. The subject has a deep and painful interest for me."

That was all, and I had forgotten all about the conversation until some
time afterwards, when I had a letter from her recalling it. I quote one
passage without the alteration of a syllable:

"Oh, why did I not know before, when I was young, in the days when my
beautiful blue-eyed but cruel and remorseless mother and sisters made
my life an inexplicable grief and torment! It might have lifted the
black shadows from my youth by explaining the reason of their
persecutions--it might have taken the edge from my sufferings by
showing that I was not personally to blame, also that nothing could
ever obviate it, that I but wasted my life and broke my heart in for
ever vain efforts to appease an hereditary enemy and oppressor."

Cases of this kind cannot, however, appear conclusive. The cases in
which mother and daughters unite in persecuting a member of the family
are not uncommon. I have known several in my experience in which
respectable, well-to-do, educated, religious people have displayed a
perfectly fiendish animosity against one of the family. In all these
cases it has been mother and daughters combining against one daughter,
and so far as one can see into the matter, the cause is usually to be
traced to some strangeness or marked peculiarity, physical or mental,
in the persecuted one. The peculiarity may be a beauty of disposition,
or some virtue or rare mental quality which the others do not possess.

It would perhaps be worth while to form a society to investigate all
these cases of persecution in families, to discover whether or not they
afford any support to the notion of an inherited antagonism of dark and
light races. The Anthropological, Eugenic and Psychical Research
Societies might consider the suggestion.

W. H. Hudson