Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
A PARTING WORD FOR BOY.
Upon the satin seat of a chair in the corner of the drawing-room, lie six white Lima beans, and three small red-spotted apples. Wild fruit they are, cast by a superannuated crab, spared by the woodman's axe because it stands on the verge of the orchard. The apple-pickers never look under it for gleanings. The beans were pulled from a frost-bitten vine in the garden, and shelled with difficulty, the pods being tough, and Boy's fingers tender. Both trophies secured, they were brought into the house, deposited in the safest place Boy's ingenuity could devise, and, alas! forgotten in the hurry of catching the "twain." There was no room for them in Boy's long-suffering pockets. They bulged to the bursting point with chestnuts, also the spoil of the grasping little fingers.
Boy is city-born and city-bred, and a day in the country is better than a thousand in street and park. A day in the woods, when chestnuts and walnuts hustle down with every breath of air, and the hollows are knee-deep with painted leaves, has joys the eager tongue trips over itself in the endeavor to recount. Boy and Boy's mother took the six o'clock train to town last night. This morning, throwing open the parlor blinds, I espy the six flat, white beans and the three red-speckled crab-apples. They were so much to the owner; except for the value imparted by association with the dancing blue eyes and the tight clutch of fingers that had green stains on them when the wrestle with the pods was over, they are so much more than worthless to everybody else--that there is infinite pathos in the litter. It is picturesque and poetic.
There will be no poetry, picturesqueness or pathos in the litter when Boy is older by a year or two. His leavings in outlandish places will become "trash," and still later on "rubbish" and "hateful." At twelve years of age he will be a "hulking boy," and convicted of bringing more dirt into the house upon one pair of soles than three pairs of hands can clean up. Eyes that fill now in surveying the tokens of his recent occupations and his lordly disregard of conventionalities, will flash petulantly upon books left, face downward, over night, on the piazza floor; muddy shoes kicked into the corner of the hall; the half-whittled cane and open knife on the sofa, and coats and caps everywhere except upon the hooks intended for them.
I once heard a grown-up beauty declare in the presence and hearing of a half-grown brother, that, "every boy should be put under a barrel at fourteen, and kept there until he was twenty, out of the sight of his kindred and acquaintances."
"Up to twenty-one he is an unmitigable nuisance!" concluded the belle, with the vanity of one who has put the case smartly.
The lad listened to the tirade without the twitch of a muscle--stolidity that proved him to be well used to such flaying. Three out of four boys in that family "turned out badly," and were cried down by a scandalized community for disgracing a decent and godly ancestry. Hearing this, I recollected the beauty and the barrel, and speculated sadly whether or not this were the key to the enigma.
It generally happens that the grown-up sister has less patience with the growing brother than any other member of the household. From principle and from inclination, and, I am inclined to add, from nature, she "sits upon" Boy habitually.
Ungrateful Lady Mary Wortley Montagu called her quondam lover, Alexander Pope--
"A sign-post likeness of the human race: That is, at once resemblance and disgrace."
In her visions of the coming man, the sister resents the truth that Boy belongs to the same species and sex, or persists in judging him by this standard. In the "freshness" of his age and kind, he is skeptical as to her good looks and other fascinations, and takes wicked satisfaction in giving her to understand that he, at least, "is not fooled by her tricks and manners." If her "nagging" is a thorn under his jacket, his cool disdain is a grain of sand inside of her slipper.
What looks like natural antipathy between big sisters and little brothers is but one of several reasons why home is so often less like home to the boys than to the rest of the family.
I have in my mind's eye a distinct picture of the quarters allotted to a promising college-lad in the mansion of a wealthy father, and which I saw by accident. Each of the three accomplished sisters had her own bed-chamber, fitted up according to her taste. A spacious sitting-room on the second floor, with windows on the sunny front and at the side, was common to the trio. There were flowers, workstands, desks, easels, bookshelves, lounging and sewing chairs, pictures selected by each; portiéres in the doorways and costly rugs upon the polished floor. Up two flights of stairs, on the same floor with the servants, the brother was domiciled in a low-browed, sunless back-room, overlooking kitchen-yards and roofs. A dingy ingrain carpet was worn thin in numerous places; no two pieces of furniture were even remotely related to one another in style or age. The wall-paper hung here and there in strips; the windows were dim with dirt; dust lay thickly in every corner; a counterpane of dubious complexion had a dark, wide-spreading stain in the centre.
It is true, I admit, that the place reeked with stale cigar smoke, and that the infirm table propped for security against the wall, groaned under a collection of juvenile "properties," the heterogeneity of which, defies my pen and memory. But, bestow a wild boy in such lodgings as he might find in a low tavern, and he will treat them accordingly. He is more observant than his mother imagines, and more sensitive than his sisters would believe. Too proud to betray the sense of humiliation engendered by appointments unsuited to his station and education, he proceeds to be "comfortable" and "jolly" in his own way.
To return to our own Boy--who, my heart misgives me, lifted up his voice and wept sore last night upon discovering that the hard-won beans and scarlet-speckled apples were left behind--his loving mother has hung his nursery walls with good engravings and artistically-colored pictures, in the conviction that a child's taste for art is formed early and for long. Heaven grant that she may keep true to this principle in all matters pertaining to his upbringing, and in judicious dependence upon the influence of external impressions upon the immature mind of her offspring!
Is our bigger boy, then, so rooted and grounded in right tastes and right feeling as to be proof against the atmosphere of the worst-located and worst-furnished room covered by his father's roof? How far will the mother's assertion that he is the apple of her eye and dearest earthly possession go, when balanced against the object-lesson of quarters which are the household hospital of incurables, in the line of beds, tables, stools and candlesticks? If his sister's room is adorned with exquisite etchings and choice paintings, while his is the refuge for chromos that have had their day--will he not draw his own inferences? If his mother never climbs to the sky-parlor to see that the careless housemaid does her duty in sweeping, dusting and picking-up, does not he divine why his chamber is systematically neglected?
Many a shrewd fellow has marked the progress of an ageing or shabby article of furniture, from the guest-chamber, through the family rooms upward, until it settles for life, or good behavior, in his apartment, and felt a dull pang at heart that he would not confess. Many another fellow, as shrewd and more reckless, has flung out passionately at what he construed into an insult, and made it the ostensible excuse for resorting to places where the motto that "anything will do for the boys," is unknown in practice.
An English woman once commented to me upon the difference between our manner of lodging and treating our sons and that which obtains in her native land. "We behave to our boys as if they were princes of the blood," she said, in her soft, sweet voice. "American girls are young princesses at home and in society, and grace the position rarely well. But--excuse me for speaking frankly--their brothers are sometimes lodged like grooms."
She was so far from wrong that I could not be displeased at the blunt criticism. The just mean between the stations thus specified is equality, and the firm maintenance of the same by the parents. Manners and environment are apt to harmonize. To teach a boy not to be slovenly and destructive in his own domain, give him a domain in which he can feel the pride of proprietorship. He would like to invite his comrades into his "den," as his sisters entertain intimate friends in their boudoir. He may not put into words the reasons why, instead of saying openly--"Come in and up!" to his evening visitor, he whispers at the outer door, "Let us go out!" which too often means, also, "down." Perhaps he is so imbued with the popular ideas respecting the furnishment of his lodging-place as hardly to interpret to himself his unwillingness to let outsiders see how well his "den" deserves the name.
Nevertheless, fond mother, give him the trial of something better. Send the "incurables" to the auction room, and fit him out anew with what should be the visible expression of your love and your desire for his welfare. Why expect him to take these on trust any more than you expect the daughters to do this? Yet their apartments are poems of good-will and maternal devotion.
In all sincerity, let me notify you that the son will not keep his premises in such seemly array as the girls keep theirs. It is not in the genuine boy. I question if a three-year-and-a-half-old granddaughter would have chosen as a safe place of deposit for the white beans and red-freckled apples the handsomest chair I have. You will find your laddie's soiled collars in his waste-paper basket; his slippers will depend from the corner of the picture you had framed for him on his last birthday; his dress-suit will be crumpled upon his wardrobe shelf, and his chiffonier be heaped with a conglomeration of foils, neckties, dead boutonnières, visiting-cards, base-balls, odd gloves, notebook, handkerchiefs, railway guides, emptied envelopes, caramel papers, button hooks, fugitive verses, blacking brushes, inkstand, hair brushes--the mother who reads this can complete the inventory, if she has abundant patience, and time is no object with her.
Nevertheless, I repeat it--let him have his "den," and one in which he can find more comfort and enjoyment than in any other haunt. We mistake--the most affectionate of us--in attributing to our sons' sensibilities the robustness or wiry insensitiveness that belongs to their physical conformation. Timely gifts are not thrown away upon them; each tasteful contribution to their well-being and happiness is a seed set in good soil.
A dear friend, in whose judgment I have put much faith, put it well when she gave her reason for rectifying only the glaring disorders of her boy's apartments while he was out of them, and letting the rest go.
"They must be clean and bright," she remarked, with tender forbearance. "But I never meddle with his books and papers, or do anything that will, in his opinion, mar the individuality of his quarters. He likes to feel that they have the impress of himself, you see. Rigid surveillance, or the appearance of it, would irk him. For a long time it annoyed me that he preferred his imprint to mine. A pile of pamphlets on the carpet within easy reach of his chair was a grievance; his boxing gloves were an eyesore when left upon his table, and he might find some other place for his dumb-bells than the exact middle of the room. Then, by degrees, I thought my way to the stable verity whereupon I now rest, that the boy is worth more than the room."