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   Chapter 5 CONTRASTS

The Man-Made World; Or, Our Androcentric Culture By Charlotte Perkins Gilman Characters: 23486

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Old England thinks our country

Is a wilderness at best-

And small New England thinks the same

Of the large free-minded West.

Some people know the good old way

Is the only way to do,

And find there must be something wrong

In anything that's new.

To Vivian the new life offered a stimulus, a sense of stir and promise even beyond her expectations. She wrote dutiful letters to her mother, trying to describe the difference between this mountain town and Bainville, but found the New England viewpoint an insurmountable obstacle.

To Bainville "Out West" was a large blank space on the map, and the blank space in the mind which matched it was but sparsely dotted with a few disconnected ideas such as "cowboy," "blizzard," "prairie fire," "tornado," "border ruffian," and the like.

The girl's painstaking description of the spreading, vigorous young town, with its fine, modern buildings, its banks and stores and theatres, its country club and parks, its pleasant social life, made small impression on the Bainville mind. But the fact that Miss Elder's venture was successful from the first did impress old acquaintances, and Mrs. Lane read aloud to selected visitors her daughter's accounts of their new and agreeable friends. Nothing was said of "chaps," "sombreros," or "shooting up the town," however, and therein a distinct sense of loss was felt.

Much of what was passing in Vivian's mind she could not make clear to her mother had she wished to. The daily presence and very friendly advances of so many men, mostly young and all polite (with the exception of Dr. Hale, whose indifference was almost rude by contrast), gave a new life and color to the days.

She could not help giving some thought to this varied assortment, and the carefully preserved image of Morton, already nine years dim, waxed dimmer. But she had a vague consciousness of being untrue to her ideals, or to Mrs. St. Cloud's ideals, now somewhat discredited, and did not readily give herself up to the cheerful attractiveness of the position.

Susie found no such difficulty. Her ideals were simple, and while quite within the bounds of decorum, left her plenty of room for amusement. So popular did she become, so constantly in demand for rides and walks and oft-recurring dances, that Vivian felt called upon to give elder sisterly advice.

But Miss Susan scouted her admonitions.

"Why shouldn't I have a good time?" she said. "Think how we grew up! Half a dozen boys to twenty girls, and when there was anything to go to-the lordly way they'd pick and choose! And after all our efforts and machinations most of us had to dance with each other. And the quarrels we had! Here they stand around three deep asking for dances-and they have to dance with each other, and they do the quarreling. I've heard 'em." And Sue giggled delightedly.

"There's no reason we shouldn't enjoy ourselves, Susie, of course, but aren't you-rather hard on them?"

"Oh, nonsense!" Sue protested. "Dr. Bellair said I should get married out here! She says the same old thing-that it's 'a woman's duty,' and I propose to do it. That is-they'll propose, and I won't do it! Not till I make up my mind. Now see how you like this!"

She had taken a fine large block of "legal cap" and set down their fifteen men thereon, with casual comment.

1. Mr. Unwin-Too old, big, quiet.

2. Mr. Elmer Skee-Big, too old, funny.

3. Jimmy Saunders-Middle-sized, amusing, nice.

4. P. R. Gibbs-Too little, too thin, too cocky.

5. George Waterson-Middling, pretty nice.

6. J. J. Cuthbert-Big, horrid.

7. Fordham Greer-Big, pleasant.

8. W. S. Horton-Nothing much.

9. A. L. Dykeman-Interesting, too old.

10. Professor Toomey-Little, horrid.

11. Arthur Fitzwilliam-Ridiculous, too young.

12. Howard Winchester-Too nice, distrust him.

13. Lawson W. Briggs-Nothing much.

14. Edward S. Jenks-Fair to middling.

15. Mr. A. Smith-Minus.

She held it up in triumph. "I got 'em all out of the book-quite correct. Now, which'll you have."

"Susie Elder! You little goose! Do you imagine that all these fifteen men are going to propose to you?"

"I'm sure I hope so!" said the cheerful damsel. "We've only been settled a fortnight and one of 'em has already!"

Vivian was impressed at once. "Which?-You don't mean it!"

Sue pointed to the one marked "minus."

"It was only 'A. Smith.' I never should be willing to belong to 'A. Smith,' it's too indefinite-unless it was a last resort. Several more are-well, extremely friendly! Now don't look so severe. You needn't worry about me. I'm not quite so foolish as I talk, you know."

She was not. Her words were light and saucy, but she was as demure and decorous a little New Englander as need be desired; and she could not help it if the hearts of the unattached young men of whom the town was full, warmed towards her.

Dr. Bellair astonished them at lunch one day in their first week.

"Dick Hale wants us all to come over to tea this afternoon," she said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

"Tea? Where?" asked Mrs. Pettigrew sharply.

"At his house. He has 'a home of his own,' you know. And he particularly wants you, Mrs. Pettigrew-and Miss Elder-the girls, of course."

"I'm sure I don't care to go," Vivian remarked with serene indifference, but Susie did.

"Oh, come on, Vivian! It'll be so funny! A man's home!-and we may never get another chance. He's such a bear!"

Dr. Hale's big house was only across the road from theirs, standing in a large lot with bushes and trees about it.

"He's been here nine years," Dr. Bellair told them. "That's an old inhabitant for us. He boarded in that house for a while; then it was for sale and he bought it. He built that little office of his at the corner-says he doesn't like to live where he works, or work where he lives. He took his meals over here for a while-and then set up for himself."

"I should think he'd be lonely," Miss Elder suggested.

"Oh, he has his boys, you know-always three or four young fellows about him. It's a mighty good thing for them, too."

Dr. Hale's home proved a genuine surprise. They had regarded it as a big, neglected-looking place, and found on entering the gate that the inside view of that rampant shrubbery was extremely pleasant. Though not close cut and swept of leaves and twigs, it still was beautiful; and the tennis court and tether-ball ring showed the ground well used.

Grandma looked about her with a keen interrogative eye, and was much impressed, as, indeed, were they all. She voiced their feelings justly when, the true inwardness of this pleasant home bursting fully upon them, she exclaimed:

"Well, of all things! A man keeping house!"

"Why not?" asked Dr. Hale with his dry smile. "Is there any deficiency, mental or physical, about a man, to prevent his attempting this abstruse art?"

She looked at him sharply. "I don't know about deficiency, but there seems to be somethin' about 'em that keeps 'em out of the business. I guess it's because women are so cheap."

"No doubt you are right, Mrs. Pettigrew. And here women are scarce and high. Hence my poor efforts."

His poor efforts had bought or built a roomy pleasant house, and furnished it with a solid comfort and calm attractiveness that was most satisfying. Two Chinamen did the work; cooking, cleaning, washing, waiting on table, with silent efficiency. "They are as steady as eight-day clocks," said Dr. Hale. "I pay them good wages and they are worth it."

"Sun here had to go home once-to be married, also, to see his honored parents, I believe, and to leave a grand-'Sun' to attend to the ancestors; but he brought in another Chink first and trained him so well that I hardly noticed the difference. Came back in a year or so, and resumed his place without a jar."

Miss Elder watched with fascinated eyes these soft-footed servants with clean, white garments and shiny coils of long, braided hair.

"I may have to come to it," she admitted, "but-dear me, it doesn't seem natural to have a man doing housework!"

Dr. Hale smiled again. "You don't want men to escape from dependence, I see. Perhaps, if more men knew how comfortably they could live without women, the world would be happier." There was a faint wire-edge to his tone, in spite of the courteous expression, but Miss Elder did not notice it and if Mrs. Pettigrew did, she made no comment.

They noted the varied excellences of his housekeeping with high approval.

"You certainly know how, Dr. Hale," said Miss Orella; "I particularly admire these beds-with the sheets buttoned down, German fashion, isn't it? What made you do that?"

"I've slept so much in hotels," he answered; "and found the sheets always inadequate to cover the blankets-and the marks of other men's whiskers! I don't like blankets in my neck. Besides it saves washing."

Mrs. Pettigrew nodded vehemently. "You have sense," she said.

The labor-saving devices were a real surprise to them. A "chute" for soiled clothing shot from the bathroom on each floor to the laundry in the basement; a dumbwaiter of construction large and strong enough to carry trunks, went from cellar to roof; the fireplaces dropped their ashes down mysterious inner holes; and for the big one in the living-room a special "lift" raised a box of wood up to the floor level, hidden by one of the "settles."

"Saves work-saves dirt-saves expense," said Dr. Hale.

Miss Hale and her niece secretly thought the rooms rather bare, but Dr. Bellair was highly in favor of that very feature.

"You see Dick don't believe in jimcracks and dirt-catchers, and he likes sunlight. Books all under glass-no curtains to wash and darn and fuss with-none of those fancy pincushions and embroidered thingummies-I quite envy him."

"Why don't you have one yourself, Johnny?" he asked her.

"Because I don't like housekeeping," she said, "and you do. Masculine instinct, I suppose!"

"Huh!" said Mrs. Pettigrew with her sudden one-syllable chuckle.

The girls followed from room to room, scarce noticing these comments, or the eager politeness of the four pleasant-faced young fellows who formed the doctor's present family. She could not but note the intelligent efficiency of the place, but felt more deeply the underlying spirit, the big-brotherly kindness which prompted his hospitable care of these nice boys. It was delightful to hear them praise him.

"O, he's simply great," whispered Archie Burns, a ruddy-cheeked young Scotchman. "He pretends there's nothing to it-that he wants company-that we pay for all we get-and that sort of thing, you know; but this is no boarding house, I can tell you!" And then he flushed till his very hair grew redder-remembering that the guests came from one.

"Of course not!" Vivian cordially agreed with him. "You must have lovely times here. I don't wonder you appreciate it!" and she smiled so sweetly that he felt at ease again.

Beneath all this cheery good will and the gay chatter of the group her quick sense caught an impression of something hidden and repressed. She felt the large and quiet beauty of the rooms; the smooth comfort, the rational, pleasant life; but still more she felt a deep keynote of loneliness.

The pictures told her most. She noted one after another with inward comment.

"There's 'Persepolis,'" she said to herself-"loneliness incarnate; and that other lion-and-ruin thing,-loneliness and decay. Gerome's 'Lion in the Desert,' too, the same thing. Then Daniel-more lions, more loneliness, but power. 'Circe and the Companions of Ulysses'-cruel, but loneliness and power again-of a sort. There's that 'Island of Death' too-a beautiful thing-

but O dear!-And young Burne-Jones' 'Vampire' was in one of the bedrooms-that one he shut the door of!"

While they ate and drank in the long, low-ceiled wide-windowed room below, she sought the bookcases and looked them over curiously. Yes-there was Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Plato, Emerson and Carlisle-the great German philosophers, the French, the English-all showing signs of use.

Dr. Hale observed her inspection. It seemed to vaguely annoy him, as if someone were asking too presuming questions.

"Interested in philosophy, Miss Lane?" he asked, drily, coming toward her.

"Yes-so far as I understand it," she answered.

"And how far does that go?"

She felt the inference, and raised her soft eyes to his rather reproachfully.

"Not far, I am afraid. But I do know that these books teach one how to bear trouble."

He met her gaze steadily, but something seemed to shut, deep in his eyes. They looked as unassailable as a steel safe. He straightened his big shoulders with a defiant shrug, and returned to sit by Mrs. Pettigrew, to whom he made himself most agreeable.

The four young men did the honors of the tea table, with devotion to all; and some especially intended for the younger ladies. Miss Elder cried out in delight at the tea.

"Where did you get it, Dr. Hale? Can it be had here?"

"I'm afraid not. That is a particular brand. Sun brought me a chest of it when he came from his visit."

When they went home each lady was given a present, Chinese fashion-lychee nuts for Sue, lily-bulbs for Vivian, a large fan for Mrs. Pettigrew, and a package of the wonderful tea for Miss Orella.

"That's a splendid thing for him to do," she said, as they walked back. "Such a safe place for those boys!"

"It's lovely of him," Sue agreed. "I don't care if he is a woman-hater."

Vivian said nothing, but admitted, on being questioned, that "he was very interesting."

Mrs. Pettigrew was delighted with their visit. "I like this country," she declared. "Things are different. A man couldn't do that in Bainville-he'd be talked out of town."

That night she sought Dr. Bellair and questioned her.

"Tell me about that man," she demanded. "How old is he?"

"Not as old as he looks by ten years," said the doctor. "No, I can't tell you why his hair's gray."

"What woman upset him?" asked the old lady.

Dr. Bellair regarded her thoughtfully. "He has made me no confidences, Mrs. Pettigrew, but I think you are right. It must have been a severe shock-for he is very bitter against women. It is a shame, too, for he is one of the best of men. He prefers men patients-and gets them. The women he will treat if he must, but he is kindest to the 'fallen' ones, and inclined to sneer at the rest. And yet he's the straightest man I ever knew. I'm thankful to have him come here so much. He needs it."

Mrs. Pettigrew marched off, nodding sagely. She felt a large and growing interest in her new surroundings, more especially in the numerous boys, but was somewhat amazed at her popularity among them. These young men were mainly exiles from home; the older ones, though more settled perhaps, had been even longer away from their early surroundings; and a real live Grandma, as Jimmy Saunders said, was an "attraction."

"If you were mine," he told her laughingly, "I'd get a pianist and some sort of little side show, and exhibit you all up and down the mountains!-for good money. Why some of the boys never had a Grandma, and those that did haven't seen one since they were kids!"

"Very complimentary, I'm sure-but impracticable," said the old lady.

The young men came to her with confidences, they asked her advice, they kept her amused with tales of their adventures; some true, some greatly diversified; and she listened with a shrewd little smile and a wag of the head-so they never were quite sure whether they were "fooling" Grandma or not.

To her, as a general confidant, came Miss Peeder with a tale of woe. The little hall that she rented for her dancing classes had burned down on a windy Sunday, and there was no other suitable and within her means.

"There's Sloan's; but it's over a barroom-it's really not possible. And Baker's is too expensive. The church rooms they won't let for dancing-I don't know what I am to do, Mrs. Pettigrew!"

"Why don't you ask Orella Elder to rent you her dining-room-it's big enough. They could move the tables--"

Miss Peeder's eyes opened in hopeful surprise. "Oh, if she would! Do you think she would? It would be ideal."

Miss Elder being called upon, was quite fluttered by the proposition, and consulted Dr. Bellair.

"Why not?" said that lady. "Dancing is first rate exercise-good for us all. Might as well have the girls dance here under your eye as going out all the time-and it's some addition to the income. They'll pay extra for refreshments, too. I'd do it."

With considerable trepidation Miss Orella consented, and their first "class night" was awaited by her in a state of suppressed excitement.

To have music and dancing-"with refreshments"-twice a week-in her own house-this seemed to her like a career of furious dissipation.

Vivian, though with a subtle sense of withdrawal from a too general intimacy, was inwardly rather pleased; and Susie bubbled over with delight.

"Oh what fun!" she cried. "I never had enough dancing! I don't believe anybody has!"

"We don't belong to the Class, you know," Vivian reminded her.

"Oh yes! Miss Peeder says we must all come-that she would feel very badly if we didn't; and the boarders have all joined-to a man!"

Everyone seemed pleased except Mrs. Jeaune. Dancing she considered immoral; music, almost as much so-and Miss Elder trembled lest she lose her. But the offer of extra payments for herself and son on these two nights each week proved sufficient to quell her scruples.

Theophile doubled up the tables, set chairs around the walls, waxed the floor, and was then sent to bed and locked in by his anxious mother.

She labored, during the earlier hours of the evening, in the preparation of sandwiches and coffee, cake and lemonade-which viands were later shoved through the slide by the austere cook, and distributed as from a counter by Miss Peeder's assistant. Mrs. Jeaune would come no nearer, but peered darkly upon them through the peep-hole in the swinging door.

It was a very large room, due to the time when many "mealers" had been accommodated. There were windows on each side, windows possessing the unusual merit of opening from the top; wide double doors made the big front hall a sort of anteroom, and the stairs and piazza furnished opportunities for occasional couples who felt the wish for retirement. In the right-angled passages, long hat-racks on either side were hung with "Derbies," "Kossuths" and "Stetsons," and the ladies took off their wraps, and added finishing touches to their toilettes in Miss Elder's room.

The house was full of stir and bustle, of pretty dresses, of giggles and whispers, and the subdued exchange of comments among the gentlemen. The men predominated, so that there was no lack of partners for any of the ladies.

Miss Orella accepted her new position with a half-terrified enjoyment. Not in many years had she found herself so in demand. Her always neat and appropriate costume had blossomed suddenly for the occasion; her hair, arranged by the affectionate and admiring Susie, seemed softer and more voluminous. Her eyes grew brilliant, and the delicate color in her face warmed and deepened.

Miss Peeder had installed a pianola to cover emergencies, but on this opening evening she had both piano and violin-good, lively, sole-stirring music. Everyone was on the floor, save a few gentlemen who evidently wished they were.

Sue danced with the gaiety and lightness of a kitten among wind-blown leaves, Vivian with gliding grace, smooth and harmonious, Miss Orella with skill and evident enjoyment, though still conscientious in every accurate step.

Presently Mrs. Pettigrew appeared, sedately glorious in black silk, jet-beaded, and with much fine old lace. She bore in front of her a small wicker rocking chair, and headed for a corner near the door. Her burden was promptly taken from her by one of the latest comers, a tall person with a most devoted manner.

"Allow me, ma'am," he said, and placed the little chair at the point she indicated. "No lady ought to rustle for rockin' chairs with so many gentlemen present."

He was a man of somewhat advanced age, but his hair was still more black than white and had a curly, wiggish effect save as its indigenous character was proven by three small bare patches of a conspicuous nature.

He bowed so low before her that she could not help observing these distinctions, and then answered her startled look before she had time to question him.

"Yes'm," he explained, passing his hand over head; "scalped three several times and left for dead. But I'm here yet. Mr. Elmer Skee, at your service."

"I thought when an Indian scalped you there wasn't enough hair left to make Greeley whiskers," said Grandma, rising to the occasion.

"Oh, no, ma'am, they ain't so efficacious as all that-not in these parts. I don't know what the ancient Mohawks may have done, but the Apaches only want a patch-smaller to carry and just as good to show off. They're collectors, you know-like a phil-e-a-to-lol-o-gist!"

"Skee, did you say?" pursued the old lady, regarding him with interest and convinced that there was something wrong with the name of that species of collector.

"Yes'm. Skee-Elmer Skee. No'm, not pronounced 'she.' Do I look like it?"

Mr. Skee was an interesting relic of that stormy past of the once Wild West which has left so few surviving. He had crossed the plains as a child, he told her, in the days of the prairie schooner, had then and there lost his parents and his first bit of scalp, was picked up alive by a party of "movers," and had grown up in a playground of sixteen states and territories.

Grandma gazed upon him fascinated. "I judge you might be interesting to talk with," she said, after he had given her this brief sketch of his youth.

"Thank you, ma'am," said Mr. Skee. "May I have the pleasure of this dance?"

"I haven't danced in thirty years," said she, dubitating.

"The more reason for doing it now," he calmly insisted.

"Why not?" said Mrs. Pettigrew, and they forthwith executed a species of march, the gentleman pacing with the elaborate grace of a circus horse, and Grandma stepping at his side with great decorum.

Later on, warming to the occasion, Mr. Skee frisked and high-stepped with the youngest and gayest, and found the supper so wholly to his liking that he promptly applied for a room, and as soon as one was vacant it was given to him.

Vivian danced to her heart's content and enjoyed the friendly merriment about her; but when Fordham Greer took her out on the long piazza to rest and breathe a little, she saw the dark bulk of the house across the street and the office with its half-lit window, and could not avoid thinking of the lonely man there.

He had not come to the dance, no one expected that, of course; but all his boys had come and were having the best of times.

"It's his own fault, of course; but it's a shame," she thought.

The music sounded gaily from within, and young Greer urged for another dance.

She stood there for a moment, hesitating, her hand on his arm, when a tall figure came briskly up the street from the station, turned in at their gate, came up the steps--

The girl gave a little cry, and shrank back for an instant, then eagerly came forward and gave her hand to him.

It was Morton.

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