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Title: Life's Minor Collisions
Author: Warner, Frances Lester, Warner, Gertrude
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  [ Transcriber's Notes:

    Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully
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  LIFE'S MINOR COLLISIONS

  BY
  FRANCES AND GERTRUDE WARNER

  AUTHORS (RESPECTIVELY) OF "ENDICOTT AND I"
  AND "HOUSE OF DELIGHT"


  BOSTON AND NEW YORK
  HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
  The Riverside Press Cambridge
  1921


  COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



TO OUR GRANDMOTHER
MARCIA JANE CHANDLER CARPENTER
WHO NEVER COLLIDES



WHY MINOR?


Collisions are measured by what they will smash. Potentially, all
collisions are major. A slight blow will explode a bomb. But since most
of us do not commonly carry dynamite through the busy sections of this
life, we can take a good many brisk knocks and still survive.

The collisions, though dealt with in separate chapters by two of us, are
seldom between two people alone. They are collisions, mostly minor,
between the individual and the group, the individual and circumstances,
the individual and the horse he rides on.

All the chapters are for those kindred spirits who try to be easy to
live with--and find it difficult.

  F. L. W.
  G. C. W.



CONTENTS


  Love's Minor Frictions             1

  Boston Streets                    27

  To Horse                          37

  Wheels and how they go round      55

  The Will to boss                  73

  More to it than you'd think       97

  Trio Impetuoso                   111

  The Return of A, B, C            134

  Understanding the Healthy        146

  Carving at Table                 162

  The Feeling of Irritation        175


NOTE

Acknowledgment of permission to reprint certain of these papers is made
to the editors of _The Atlantic Monthly_, _Education_, _The Ladies' Home
Journal_, _The Outlook_, _Scribner's Magazine_, and _The Unpartizan
Review_.



LIFE'S MINOR COLLISIONS



LOVE'S MINOR FRICTIONS


Minor friction is the kind that produces the most showy results with the
smallest outlay. You can stir up more electricity in a cat by stroking
her fur the wrong way than you can by dropping her into the well. You
can ruffle the dearest member of your family more by asking him twice if
he is _sure_ that he locked the back door than his political opponents
could stir him with a libel. We have direct access to the state of mind
of the people with whom we share household life and love. Therefore, in
most homes, no matter how congenial, a certain amount of minor friction
is inevitable.

Four typical causes of minor friction are questions of _tempo_, the
brotherly reform measure, supervised telephone conversations, and tenure
of parental control. These are standard group-irritants that sometimes
vex the sweetest natures.

The matter of _tempo_, broadly considered, covers the whole process of
adjustment between people of hasty and deliberate moods. It involves
alertness of spiritual response, alacrity in taking hints and filling
orders, timely appreciations, considerate delays, and all the other
delicate retards and accelerations that are necessary if hearts are to
beat as one. But it also includes such homely questions as the time for
setting out for places, the time consumed in getting ready to set out,
and the swiftness of our progress thither. When a man who is tardy is
unequally yoked with a wife who is prompt, their family moves from point
to point with an irregularity of rhythm that lends suspense to the
mildest occasions.

A certain architect and his wife Sue are a case in point. Sue is always
on time. If she is going to drive at four, she has her children ready at
half-past three, and she stations them in the front hall, with muscles
flexed, at ten minutes to four, so that the whole group may emerge from
the door like food shot from guns, and meet the incoming automobile
accurately at the curb. Nobody ever stops his engine for Sue. Her
husband is correspondingly late. Just after they were married, the choir
at their church gambled quietly on the chances--whether she would get
him to church on time, or whether he would make her late. The first
Sunday they came five minutes early, the second ten minutes late, and
every Sunday after that, Sue came early, Prescott came late, and the
choir put their money into the contribution-box. In fact, a family of
this kind can solve its problem most neatly by running on independent
schedules, except when they are to ride in the same automobile or on the
same train. Then, there is likely to be a breeze.

But the great test of such a family's grasp of the time-element comes
when they have a guest who must catch a given car, due to pass the white
post at the corner at a quarter to the hour. The visit is drawing to a
close, with five minutes to spare before car-time. Those members of the
family who like to wait until the last moment, and take their chances of
boarding the running-board on the run, continue a lively conversation
with the guest. But the prompt ones, with furtive eye straying to the
clock, begin to sit forward uneasily in their chairs, their faces drawn,
pulse feverish, pondering the question whether it is better to let a
guest miss a car or seem to hurry him away. The situation is all the
harder for the prompt contingent, because usually they have behind them
a criminal record of occasions when they have urged guests to the curb
in plenty of time and the car turned out to be late. The runners and
jumpers of the family had said it would be late, and it was late. These
memories restrain speech until the latest possible moment. Then the
guest is whisked out to the white post with the words, "If you _could_
stay, we'd be delighted, but if you really _have_ to make your train--"
Every punctual person knows the look of patronage with which the
leisured classes of his family listen to this old speech of his. They
find something nervous and petty about his prancing and pawing, quite
inferior to their large oblivion. As Tagore would say, "They are not too
poor to be late."

The matter of _tempo_ involves also the sense of the fortunate moment,
and the timing of deeds to accord with moods. In almost every group
there is one member who is set at a slightly different velocity from the
others, with a momentum not easily checked. When the rest of the
household settles down to pleasant conversation, this member thinks of
something pressing that must be done at once.

The mother of three college boys is being slowly trained out of this
habit. Her sons say that she ought to have been a fire-chief, so brisk
is she when in her typical hook-and-ladder mood. Whenever her family
sits talking in the evening, she has flitting memories of things that
she must run and do. One night, when she had suddenly rushed out to see
if the maid had remembered to put out the milk tickets, one of the boys
was dispatched with a warrant for her arrest. He traced her to the door
of the side porch, and peered out at her in the darkness. "What's little
pussy-foot doing now?" he inquired affectionately. "Can she see better
in the dark? Come along back." But her blood was up. She thought of
several other duties still waiting, and went at once to the kitchen and
filled the dipper. With this she returned to the room where sat the
waiting conversationalists, and systematically watered the fern. It was
like wearing orange to a Sinn Fein rally. At the chorus of reproach she
only laughed, the scornful laugh of the villain on the stage. Six
determined hands seized her at once. The boys explained that, when they
wanted to talk to her, it was no time to water ferns. As habitual
breaker-up of public meetings, she was going to be reformed.

But the reform measure, a group-irritant second to none, is generally
uphill business in the home. Welfare work among equals is sometimes
imperative, but seldom popular. Any programme of social improvement
implies agitation and a powerful leverage of public opinion not wholly
tranquillizing to the person to be reformed.

There is one family that has worked for years upon the case of one of
its members who reads aloud out of season. When this brother William
finds a noble bit of literature, he is fired to share it with his
relatives, regardless of time and circumstances. He comes eagerly out of
his study, book in hand, when his public is trying on a dress. Or he
begins to read without warning, when all the other people in the room
are reading something else. Arguments and penalties never had the
slightest effect, until one of the company hit upon a device that proves
a defensive measure in emergencies.

Brother William started suddenly to read aloud from a campaign speech.
His youngest sister was absorbed in that passage in "Edwin Drood" called
"A Night With Durdles," where Jasper and Durdles are climbing the
cathedral spire. In self-defence she also began to read in a clear tone
as follows: "Anon, they turn into narrower and steeper staircases, and
the night air begins to blow upon them, and the chirp of some startled
jackdaw or frightened rook precedes the heavy beating of wings in a
confined space, and the beating down of dust and straws upon their
heads."

The idea spread like wildfire. All the others opened their books and
magazines and joined her in reading aloud from the page where they had
been interrupted. It was a deafening medley of incongruous material--a
very telling demonstration of the distance from which their minds had
jumped when recalled to the campaign speech. Brother William was able to
distinguish in the uproar such fragments as these: "Just at that moment
I discovered four Spad machines far below the enemy planes"; "'Thankyou
thankyou,' cried Mr. Salteena--"; "Thomas Chatterton Jupiter Zeus, a
most dear wood-rat"; and "'It is natural,' Gavin said slowly, 'that you,
sir, should wonder why I am here with this woman at such an hour.'"

This method did not work a permanent cure, because nothing ever cures
the reader-aloud. His impulse is generosity--a mainspring of character,
not a passing whim. But at a crisis, his audience can read aloud in
concert.

The reform measure is more hopeful when directed, not at a rooted trait,
but at a surface phase or custom. Even here success is not without its
battles. My sister Barbara and I were once bent upon teaching our
younger brother Geoffrey to rise when ladies entered the room. Geoffrey,
then at the brigand age, looked at this custom as the mannerism of an
effete civilization. He rose, indeed, for guests, but not as to the
manner born. One day he came home and reported that the lady next door
had introduced him to an aunt of hers who had just arrived on a visit.
"And," said he, with speculative eye upon his sisters, "_I didn't get up
to be introduced._"

The effect was all that heart could wish. Tongues flew. Geoffrey
listened with mournful dignity, offering no excuse. He waited until our
sisterly vocabulary was exhausted.

"Why didn't you ask me where I was when she introduced me?" he asked at
length. "I was crawling along the ridgepole of her garage catching her
cat for her, and I couldn't get up."

But we were not easily diverted from our attempts to foster in him the
manly graces. We even went so far as to invite Geoffrey to afternoon
tea-parties with our friends. But a Tea-Lion, he said, was one thing
that he was not. On such occasions he would be found sitting on the
kitchen table dourly eating up the olives and refusing to come in. We
were too young in those days to know that you cannot hurry a certain
phase. But now, when we meet our brother at receptions, we smile at our
former despair. Reformers often find their hardest tasks taken out of
their hands by time.

Few brothers and sisters, however, are willing to trust to time to work
its wonders. There is a sense of fraternal responsibility that goads us
to do what we can for each other in a small way. The friction that
ensues constitutes an experience of human values that the hermit in his
cell can never know. Whenever people of decided views feel personally
responsible for each other's acts, a type of social unrest begins to
brew that sometimes leads to progress and sometimes leads to riots.

For this reason, in any home that aspires to peace at any price, the
telephone should be installed in a sound-proof box-office with no glass
in the door. There is nothing that so incenses a friendly nature as a
family grouped in the middle-distance offering advice when a telephone
conversation is going on. The person at the receiver looks so idle;
there seems to be no reason why he should not listen with his unoccupied
ear; and, when he is so evidently in need of correct data, it seems only
kind to help him out. It is the most natural thing in the world to
listen. The family listens, in the first place, to find out which one of
them is wanted, and they continue to listen to find out what is said.
When the wrong thing is said, all loyal relatives feel responsible.

The person telephoning is unfairly handicapped by necessary politeness,
because he can be heard through the transmitter and his advisers cannot.
Only extreme exasperation can unleash his tongue, as happened once when
Geoffrey, in our father's absence, undertook to answer a telephone call
while Barbara, in the next room, corrected his mistakes.

Geoffrey, pricking both ears, was doing very well, until the lady at the
other end of the line asked a question at the exact moment when Barbara
offered a new thought. "What did you say?" inquired Geoffrey. Both
Barbara and the lady repeated. "What is it?" said Geoffrey, waving one
foot at Barbara. Barbara, not seeing the foot, repeated, and so did the
lady, this time more distinctly. "I beg your pardon," said Geoffrey
anxiously, "but what did you say?" Like an incredible nightmare the
thing happened again. "Shut up!" roared Geoffrey; "what did you say?"

Barbara, recognizing instantly that part of the message directed to her,
wrote her suggestion on the telephone pad and stole prudently away.
Minor friction, she had learned, can sometimes lead to action on a large
scale. Only after some such experience as this do we allow a kinsman to
conduct his own telephone conversations, taking his own
responsibilities, running his own dark risks.

But the sense of mutual responsibility is, after all, the prime
educational factor in family life. Every good parent has a feeling of
accountability for the acts of his children. He may believe in
self-determination for the small States about him, but after all he
holds a mandate. The delightful interweaving of parental suggestion with
the original tendencies of the various children is the delicate thing
that makes each family individual. It is also the delicate thing that
makes parenthood a nervous occupation. When parental suggestion is going
to interweave delightfully as planned, and when it is not going to
interweave at all, is something not foretold in the prophets.

The question of parental influence becomes more complex as the family
grows older and more informally organized. Sometimes a son or daughter
wants to carry out a pet project without any advice or warning or help
from anybody. There is nothing rash or guilty about his plan. He simply
happens to be in the mood to act, not in committee, but of himself. To
achieve this, surrounded by a united and conversational family, becomes
a game of skill. To dodge advice, he avoids the most innocent questions.
At such times as these, the wisest parents wonder what they have done to
forfeit confidence. They see this favorite son of theirs executing the
most harmless plans with all the secrecy of the young poisoning princes
of the Renaissance.

When this happens, the over-sensitive parent grieves, the dictatorial
parent rails, but the philosophical parent picks up whatever interesting
morsels he can on the side, and cocks a weather eye.

"Robert seems to have a good many engagements," wrote the mother of a
popular son in a letter to an absent daughter, "but whether the nature
of the engagements is social, athletic, or philanthropic, we can only
infer from the equipment with which he sets out. I inferred the first
this morning when he asked me to have his dress-suit sent to be pressed;
but I could not be certain until Mrs. Stone said casually that Robert
was to be a guest at Mrs. Gardiner's dinner next week. Don't you love to
see such tender intimacy between mother and son?"

Secrecy of this kind is not the monopoly of sons. Excellent young women
have chopped ice and frozen sherbet behind closed doors because they did
not want to be told again not to get the ice all over the back piazza.
Certain warnings go with certain projects as inevitably as rubbers with
the rain. The practised mother has so often found the warnings
necessary, that the mere sight of the act produces the formula by rote.
Model sons and daughters should accept these hints with gratitude, thus
avoiding all friction, however minor. But rather than be advised to do
that which they were planning to do already, the most loyal of daughters
will resort to clandestine measures, and go stealthily with the ice-pick
as with a poniard beneath a cloak. This annoys an affectionate and
capable mother very much. And she has a right to be annoyed, has she
not? After all, it is her ice-pick.

There is something of spirited affection about the memory of all these
early broils. They were heated enough at the time, for the most violent
emotions can fly out at a trifling cause. Remarks made in these
turbulent moments are often taken as a revelation of your true and
inward self. The sentiments that you express in your moment of wrath
sound like something that you have been repressing for years and are now
turning loose upon an enlightened world. There is an air of desperate
sincerity about your remarks that makes your hearers feel that here, at
last, they have the truth.

With friends, after such an outburst, you could never feel quite the
same again. But with your relatives, such moments can be lived down--as
once occurred in our own family when our father one hot summer day sent
Geoffrey back to town to perform a forgotten errand. I had not heard of
the event until I took my place at table.

"Where's Geoffrey?" said I.

"I sent him back to get a letter he forgot," said my father.

"In all this heat?" I protested. "Well, if I had been in his place, I'd
have gone away and stayed away."

"Well, you could," said my father serenely.

"Well, I will," said Little Sunshine, and walked out of the door and up
the street in a rage.

After you have left your parental home as suddenly as this, there comes
a moment when you have the sensation of being what is termed "all
dressed up with no place to go." You feel that your decision, though
sudden, is irrevocable, because going back would mean death to your
pride. You try to fight off the practical thought that you can hardly go
far without hat or scrip. Therefore, when Geoffrey met his eloping
sister at the corner, it was with some little diplomacy that he learned
my history and took me back to the table under his wing. The
conversation barely paused as we took our places. Our father went on
affably serving the salad to the just and the unjust alike. If, at this
point, I had been treated with the contumely that I deserved, the memory
would be unpleasant in the minds of all. As it is, the family now
mentions it as the time when Margaret ran away to sea.

The only thing that can make minor friction hurtful is the
disproportionate importance that it can assume when it is treated as a
major issue, or taken as an indication of mutual dislike. It is often an
indication of the opposite, though at the moment the contestants would
find this hard to believe. Kept in its place, however, we find in it
later a great deal of humorous charm, because it belongs to a period
when we dealt with our brethren with a primitive directness not possible
in later years. An intricate ambition, this matter of harmony in the
home. Ideally, every family would like to have a history of
uninterrupted adorations and exquisite accord. But growth implies
change, change implies adjustment, and adjustment among varied
personalities implies friction. Kept at the minimum, kept in its place,
such friction does not estrange. Instead, it becomes a means to an
intimate acquaintance with one another's traits and moods--an intimacy
of understanding not far remote from love.



BOSTON STREETS


I am trying to learn how to get from the Majestic Theatre to the South
Station. I am convinced that in time I might be able to learn this, if I
were not also trying at the same time to learn how to get from the
Hollis Street Theatre to the Dennison Manufacturing Company on Franklin
Street.

I suppose that trying to solve two problems simultaneously is always
confusing. A student trying to compute problems with both hands at the
same time--problems dealing respectively with yards and pounds--might
ultimately confuse his inches with ounces. Similarly, I confuse Eliot
Street and Essex, Kneeland and Otis.

My brother Geoffrey who goes with me to Boston thinks that this is
funny; that is, he thinks it something appalling that should be
remedied. In consequence of this, he draws for me a series of beautiful
little sketches on an envelope he has about him. He letters the roads
meticulously with a fountain pen, traces our route-to-be with little
arrows, and then flings me heartlessly into the Boston Streets.

Boston Streets, and Boston Streets on an envelope, are not alike at all.
On the envelope, the streets are simple lines, all related to each
other; in reality, each street is an individual personality, distracting
you from a noble grasp of the Whole, by presenting the sole gigantic
unit of itself, further complicated by detail. Geoffrey is not bothered
by a unit, or by a detail. He branches from one street into another with
as sure an instinct as a cat who retraces on foot a journey once
traversed in a bag.

This is not because he _knows_ Boston, but because he has a _capacity_
for Boston. He leads me patiently over one route a great many times,
verifying our position at intervals with reference to his map. After a
day at my books, I am faint-heartedly supposed to have comprehended a
fact. When this actually takes place, it is very hard for me to conceal
my pride in any trifling bit of erudition which I may have accidentally
picked up about Boston. Once I distinctly remember saying to Geoffrey,
"Do you want to walk down to the Colonial Theatre or shall we go by
Subway?" Since we were at that time near the entrance of a suitable
subway, my good brother stared at me in radiant expectation. I fear that
he hoped that I was at last laying a slight hold on a working knowledge
of his favorite city. But his hope was unfounded, for this glimmer of
mine was one of only four facts that I have actually been able to learn
about the crooked miles in Boston.

The remaining three truths are here recorded for the curious.

I know the Public Library, from any angle, without map or guide, by its
fair face alone, and how to reach it from the station at Back Bay.
(This, in such a meagre description of Boston, might perhaps qualify as
two distinct facts.) I know that if one walks far enough past the
Library, in the direction in which the lady with the black ball is
looking, one will eventually come to Commonwealth Avenue, where eozoic
cabbies may be seen. And now that we have unearthed, on our way back to
the station, the Copley Theatre, I am sure that I could go to Boston,
friendless, find this theatre, lunch across the street, and retrace my
steps to some proper railway.

It may seem to the observer that I am abnormally interested in finding
my way to the theatres. I am. This is my primary reason for going to
Boston at all; and surely it is a quiet wish to do a little shopping and
get a lunch before the play begins. Therefore, our main interest lies in
locating, on each trip, one theatre and one depot. Then, if time
permits, I am supposed to articulate a shop of some kind from the tangle
of Butterfly Boxes, Corner Book Stores, and Florist windows, and some
sort of hostelry where we can eat. If my guide is less obdurate than
usual about compelling me to find my way without his assistance, he
shows me the front steps of a Department Store _once_. Then I am
supposed to know that store for all time, when viewing it from all
angles--from its front door, its back door, its basement, and from its
roof. I am supposed to know what store I am in from the looks of the
elevator boys. It always gives me acute pain to disappoint a valued
friend. Hence, in a department store, I suffer. Once inside the store, I
can find my way about very easily. I merely do not know what street I am
on.

There are certain things in Boston about which even Geoffrey inquires.
This concession on his part, instead of bringing him down to my fallible
human level, instantly elevates him to a still higher caste. He makes
his inquiries of policemen, and he understands what they say. When a
policeman directs _me_--solitary--to go up one street and down another,
and mixes in a little of the Public Garden or the Common, I cannot carry
his kind words in my mind, even with the aid of a mnemonic. He cannot
direct me from the known to the unknown, because I know nothing. He
cannot explain to me; he has to go with me. I do not know the Common
from the Public Garden. They both look like gardens to me, both equally
public, and neither, common. "But," protests my brother, "the Public
Garden is regular--a rectangle. And the Common is irregular--a
trapezium." This is perfectly true on the envelope (now dirty). But when
you are in the park itself, you are not especially aware of its shape.
Individual pigeons are more obvious. The park is too big to look square.

In just this same way, Washington Street is too big to look parallel.
When you are on Washington Street, and it alone, it is not blindingly
parallel to anything, unless, perhaps, the other side of itself. And if
my policeman, on his pretty horse, should tell me that that was Tremont
Street, I should believe him. Boston has done as bad. It would be no
stranger than it is to spring miraculously from Summer Street into
Winter, simply by following it across the road. In fact, I was not aware
that we had changed streets at all, when on my maiden trip through this
section. I preserved to the end an hallucination that I was still on
Summer Street.

Perhaps a few will do me the magnificent honor of absolving me from
boasting, when I say that I am capable of apprehending really nice bits
of information in other walks of life;--other than Boston walks. I can
pick you out a pneumonia germ from under the microscope, and count your
red corpuscles for you. I can receive the Continental Code by wireless,
and play on a violoncello. I can get a baby to sleep.

But I cannot tell you where you are in Boston. There are people who
would not admit this. They would set themselves, with their faces
steadfastly toward the Hub, to learn. Geoffrey is one of these. But I
have neither the time nor the proper shoes. I readily admit that Boston
is too much for me at my age. So I take my brother with me. Then I
placidly relegate Boston Streets to that list of things which I am
constitutionally unable to learn:--how to tat, just what is a Stock, and
what a Bond, and the difference between a Democrat and a Republican.



TO HORSE


"A duck," we used to read in the primer at school, "a duck is a long low
animal covered with feathers." Similarly, a horse is a long high animal,
covered with confusion. This applies to the horse as we find him in the
patriotic Parade, where a brass-band precedes him, an unaccustomed rider
surmounts him, and a drum-corps brings up his rear.

In our own Welcome Home Parade, after the boys returned from France, the
Legion decided to double the number of its mounted effectives: all the
overseas officers should ride. All the overseas officers were instantly
on their feet. Their protests were loud and heated. A horse, they said,
was something that they personally had never bestridden. They offered to
ride anything else. They would fly down the avenue in Spads, or do the
falling leaf over the arch of triumph. They would ride tanks or
motor-cycles or army-trucks. But a horse was a thing of independent
locomotion, not to be trifled with. It was not the idea of getting
killed that they objected to, it was the looks of the thing. By "the
thing," they meant not the horse, but the rider.

In spite of the veto of the officers, the motion was carried by
acclamation. The mediæval charm of a mounted horse-guard instantly
kindled the community imagination. The chaplain, fresh from the navy,
was promised a milk-white palfrey for his especial use, if he would wear
his ice-cream suit for the occasion.

There was no time to practise before the event, but the boys were told
to give themselves no anxiety about mounts. Well-bred and competent
horses would appear punctually just before the time for falling in. The
officers were instructed to go to a certain corner of a side street,
find the fence behind the garage where the animals would be tied, select
their favorite form of horse from the collection they would see there,
and ride him up to the green.

When Geoffrey came home and said that he was to ride a horse in the
procession, our mother, who had been a good horsewoman in her girlhood,
took him aside and gave him a few quiet tips. Some horses, she said, had
been trained to obey certain signals, and some to obey the exact
opposite. For instance, some would go faster if you reined them in, and
some would slow down. Some waited for light touches from their master's
hand or foot, and others for their master's voice. You had to study your
horse as an individual.

Geoffrey said that he was glad to hear any little inside gossip of this
sort, and made his way alone to the place appointed, skilfully dodging
friends. We gathered that if he had to have an interview with a horse,
he preferred to have it with nobody looking on.

The fence behind the garage was fringed with horses securely tied, and
the top of the fence was fringed with a row of small boys, waiting.
Geoffrey approached the line of horses, and glanced judicially down the
row. Books on "Reading Character at Sight" make a great point of the
distinctions between blond and brunette, the concave and the convex
profile, the glance of the eye, and the manner of shaking hands.
Geoffrey could tell at a glance that the handshake of these horses would
be firm and full of decision. As one man they turned and looked at him,
and their eyes were level and inscrutable.

"Which of these horses," said he to the gang on the fence-top, "would
you take?"

"This one!" said an eager spokesman. "He didn't move a muscle since they
hitched 'im."

This recommendation decided the matter instantly. Repose of manner is an
estimable trait in the horse.

Geoffrey looked his animal over with an artist's eye. It was a slender
creature, with that spare type of beauty that we associate with the
Airedale dog. The horse was not a blond. The stirrups hung invitingly at
the sides. Geoffrey closed the inspection with satisfaction, and
prepared to mount.

In mounting, does one first untie one's horse and then get on, or may
one, as in a steam-launch, get seated first and then cast off the
painter? Geoffrey could not help recalling a page from "Pickwick
Papers," where Mr. Winkle is climbing up the side of a tall horse at the
Inn, and the 'ostler's boy whispers, "Blowed if the gen'l'man wasn't for
getting up the wrong side." Well, what governs the right and wrong side
of a horse? Douglas Fairbanks habitually avoids the dilemma by mounting
from above--from the roof of a Mexican monastery, for instance, or the
fire-escape of an apartment house. From these points he lands,
perpendicularly. With this ideal in mind, Geoffrey stepped on from the
fence, clamped his legs against the sides of the horse, and walked him
out into the street.

When I say that he walked him out into the street, I use the English
language as I have seen it used in books, but I think that it was an
experienced rider who first used the idiom. Geoffrey says that he did
not feel, at any time that afternoon, any sensation of walking his
horse, or of doing anything else decisive with him. He walked, to be
sure, dipping his head and rearing it, like a mechanical swan. But on a
horse you miss the sensation of direct control that you have with a
machine. With a machine, you press something, and if a positive reaction
does not follow, you get out and fix something else. Not so with the
horse. When you get upon him you cut yourself off from all accurately
calculable connection with the world. He is, in the last analysis, an
independent personality. His feet are on the ground, and yours are not.

We bow to literary convention, therefore, when we say that Geoffrey
walked his horse.

Far ahead of him, he saw the khaki backs of two of his friends who were
also walking their horses. One by one they ambled up to the green and
took places in the ranks. Geoffrey discovered that his horse would stand
well if allowed to droop his long neck and close his eyes. Judged as a
military figure, however, he was a disgrace to the army. If you drew up
the reins to brace his head, he thought it a signal to start, and you
had to take it all back, hastily. With the relaxed rein he collapsed
again, his square head bent in silent prayer.

With the approach of the band, however, all this changed. He reared
tentatively. Geoffrey discouraged that. Then he curled his body in an
unlovely manner--an indescribable gesture, a sort of sidelong squirm in
semi-circular formation. His rider straightened him out with a fatherly
slap on the flank.

It was time to start. The band led off. Joy to the world, thought the
horse, the band is gone. The rest of the cavalry moved forward in docile
files, but not he. If that band was going away, he would be the last
person to pursue it. Instead of going forward, he backed. He backed and
backed. There is no emergency brake on a horse. He would have backed to
the end of the procession, through the Knights of Columbus, the Red
Cross, the Elks, the Masons, the D.A.R., the Fire Department, and the
Salvation Army, if it had not been for the drum-corps that led the
infantry. The drum-corps behind him was as terrifying as the band in
front. To avoid the drum-corps, he had to spend part of his time going
away from it. Thus his progress was a little on the principle of the
pendulum. He backed from the band until he had to flee before the drums.

The ranks of men were demoralized by needless mirth. Army life dulls the
sensibilities to the spectacle of suffering. They could do nothing to
help, except to make a clear passage for Geoffrey as he alternately
backed from the brasses and escaped from the drums. Vibrating in this
way, he could only discourse to his horse with words of feigned
affection, and pray for the panic to pass off. With a cranky automobile,
now, one could have parked down a side street, and later joined the
procession, all trouble repaired. But there was nothing organic the
matter with this horse. Geoffrey could not have parked him in any case,
because it would have been no more possible to turn him toward the
cheering crowds on the pavement than to make him follow the band. The
crowds on the street, in fact, began to regard these actions as a sort
of interesting and decorative manoeuvre, so regular was the advance and
retirement--something in the line of a cotillion. And then the band
stopped playing for a little. Instantly the horse took his place in the
ranks, marched serenely, arched his slim neck, glanced about. All was as
it should be.

Geoffrey's place was just behind the marshal, supposedly to act as his
aide. During all this absence from his post of duty, the marshal had not
noticed his defection or turned around at all. Now he did so, hastily.

"Just slip back, will you," he said, "and tell Monroe not to forget the
orders at the reviewing stand."

Geoffrey opened his mouth to explain his disqualifications as courier,
but at that moment the band struck up, and his charger backed
precipitately. The marshal, seeing this prompt obedience to his request,
faced front, and Geoffrey was left steadily receding, no time to
explain--and the drum-corps was taking a vacation. There was, therefore,
no reason for the horse ever to stop backing, unless he should back
around the world until he heard the band behind him again. As he backed
through the ranks of infantry, Geoffrey shouted the marshal's message to
the officer of the day. He had to talk fast--ships that pass in the
night. But the message was delivered, and he could put his whole mind on
his horse.

He tried all the signals for forward locomotion that he could devise.
Mother had told him that some horses wait for light touches from their
master's hand or foot. Geoffrey touched his animal here and there, back
of the ear--at the base of the brain. He even kicked a trifle. He jerked
the reins in Morse Code and Continental, to the tune of S O S. The horse
understood no codes.

They were now in the ranks of the Knights of Columbus, and the marching
boys were making room for them with shouts of sympathetic glee. Must
they back through the Red Cross, where all the girls in town were
marching, and into the Daughters of the Revolution float where our
mother sat with a group of ladies around the spinning-wheel? Geoffrey
remembered that the Red Cross had a band, if it would only play. It
struck up just in time. The horse instantly became a fugitive in the
right direction. On they sped, the reviewing stand almost in sight. The
drum-corps had not begun to play. Could they reach the cavalry before it
was too late? Geoffrey hated to pass the reviewing stand in the guise of
a deserter, yet here he was cantering among the Odd Fellows, undoubtedly
A.W.O.L.

But Heaven was kind. The drums waited. Through their ranks dashed
Geoffrey at full speed, and into the midst of his companions. The
reviewing stand was very near. At a signal, all bands and all drums
struck up together. The horse, in stable equilibrium at last, daring not
to run forward or to run backward, or to bolt to either side, fell into
step and marched. Deafening cheers, flying handkerchiefs; Geoffrey and
his horse stole past, held in the ranks by a delicate balance of
four-cornered fear. If you fear something behind you and something in
front of you, and things on both sides of you, and if your fear of all
points of the compass is precisely equal, you move with the movements of
the globe. Geoffrey's horse moved that way past the stand.

People took their pictures. Our father, beaming down from the galaxy on
the stand, was pleased. Later he told Geoffrey how well he sat his
horse.

But that evening Geoffrey had a talk with his mother, as man to man. He
told her that, if these Victory Parades were going to be held often, he
should vote for compulsory military training for the horse. He told her
the various things his horse had done, how he went to and fro, going to
when urged fro, and going fro when urged not to.

"Probably he had been trained to obey the opposite signals," said our
mother. "You must study your horse as an individual."

That horse was an individual. Geoffrey studied him as such. He is quite
willing to believe that he had been trained to obey the opposite
signals. But Geoffrey says that he still cannot stifle one last question
in his mind:--signals opposite to what?



WHEELS AND HOW THEY GO ROUND


It is a simple matter, I have been told, to keep a locomotive running
smoothly on its track, once it is well coaled-up and started. In an
artistic moment in a summer vacation, Margaret and I likened our house
and all its simple well-oiled machinery to a locomotive--Mother and
Carrie being the engineer.

Therefore, we accepted rather blandly the charge of the house and
grounds while the engineer took a vacation. I rather think we had it in
mind to look in occasionally upon the house as it ran along, and to save
the bulk of the day for other things. We were already accustomed to the
complexities of a house; we had officiated at each separate complexity.
But I am not sure that we did not plan to run the house a trifle more
nonchalantly than the average anxious housewife, and welcome both our
daily duties and any unexpected guests with a minimum of morbid
foreboding.

The first thing we noticed after we were left alone was a little steady
drip in the back room. This was the refrigerator leaking. When this fact
had once been agreed upon, Margaret and I began to see with eyes of the
mind fragments of motion pictures in which the refrigerator was being
fixed. It is queer what vague remnants of a scene will stay with you,
when at the time of the scene you were not responsible for the outcome.
Margaret, from her ever-active and interesting memory, called up
Mother's dream-shape at the silcock, all ready to turn on the
garden-hose. I dimly remembered Carrie with her arm under the
refrigerator holding the hose and calling respectfully from the back
room--"All ready, mum." So we hatched a plot and proceeded to act it.

We had to assume the pipe at the rear of the ice-box, for we could not
see it. We assumed also that it was plugged up. I had chanced once upon
Carrie, lying prone on a rug in the back room, directing the nozzle of
the hose into this inaccessible pipe-hole near the farther wall. I
elected to plumb for the hole, with Margaret to run about alternately
holding matches for me and working the spray. My arms are the longer;
her fear of fire is somewhat less. After I had found the hole, Margaret
attached the hose to the silcock outside the house, threaded it through
the screen door, passed the nozzle to me, and went back to turn on the
water. Hose in hand, face averted,--prone,--I waited. Prone means on
your face. If you turn your head to look under the refrigerator, your
arm is not long enough. I directed the water almost wholly by the
Braille system. Why it should have entered into the heart of man to
construct a refrigerator so deep that the arm of man is not long enough
to reach its drain, will have to be explained to us when we reach the
city four-square. But a good workman never finds fault with his tools,
Margaret said, so we set to work with what Nature offered us.

I soon found that no cue was needed for some of my lines. My manner of
shouting, "Turn it off!" was extremely unstudied;--art disguising art.
Twice the back room was inundated. I became a saturated solution. I felt
like the brave boy of Haarlem. Margaret came in and advanced the theory
that, when you have reached a certain stage of wetness, it does not
matter at all how much more water you lie in. Acting on this
supposition, and with my consent, she turned on all the city's
water-power with great suddenness. I shall always think that this did
make a difference in my wetness, but it dislodged the obstruction. We
could hear the glad water leaping and gurgling through the pipe out of
doors.

Why this pipe should have had any connection with the boiler and
attendant pipes behind the stove remains forever shrouded in mystery.
These pipes began to leak on the morning of the second day, and we sent
for a plumber. He pronounced us unpatchable, unsolderable. Margaret and
I convened. We decided, in committee of the whole, to be re-piped and
re-boilered. We did not know then that the plumbers were going to find
still more serious trouble with the pipes that led to the main. Were we
justified in ordering complete repairs? Our eternal query of Life
became, "What would Mother do?" We went the whole figure--well up into
three figures.

It was not until the third day that we succeeded in making our
nonchalance at all prominent. We invited a guest to supper,
nonchalantly. She was not the type of guest that you take into the
kitchen and tie an apron around. In her honor, we decided to have, among
other things, popovers and cherry pie. We decided that we could
conventionally have popovers because the hour was really a supper hour;
that we might have cherry pie because the meal was really a dinner. To
make this strange plan at all intelligible, I shall have to state that,
as far as our names are known, we are famous for our popovers and our
cherry pie. We were at our nonchalant best.

Our cherry tree is a unique specimen among the vegetables. It has a
curious short, gnarled trunk just as a cherry tree should; but, aside
from that, it runs along the general lines of a spirea. Each main
branch, nearly six inches in diameter at the point of departure,
sprangles instantly into showers of fragile twigs. These in turn branch
gracefully higher and higher, occasional cherries on the outskirts. To
pick our cherries, one really ought to be a robin. Each cherry has an
exquisite red cheek and a black ant running to and fro across it.

We chose Margaret to pick the cherries. We chose her because she is
lighter than I by half a stone; and we thought the fewer stone on the
twigs, the better. Then it was going to be her pie.

The cherries which could be reached from the ground were satisfactory in
the extreme. They rattled into the pail, just as other people's cherries
rattle. It would have been my instinct to leave these till the last. But
I was not picking the cherries. I found it impossible, however, to stay
away from the cherry-picking. Margaret is rather quick in some of her
mannerisms. And her mannerism of mounting our cherry tree was little
short of lightning. She was wearing white silk hose and white canvas
slippers. Personally I did not consider these correct climbing shoes,
but Margaret is accustomed, when far from home, to choose her own boots
for all occasions, and to pay for new ones when her choice proves
disastrous. So I watched her rise above me without remark.

I freely admit that it always seems less dangerous to one whose feet can
feel the crotches on the tree, and on whose arm the tin pail is, than to
the anxious relative on the ground below. As Margaret's manoeuvres
transmitted unpleasant little cracks along the tree, I recalled bits of
sage advice that I had on a time given to my mother concerning her
attitude when Geoffrey was climbing trees. I had told Mother that
Geoffrey was just as safe in a tree as in his bed. But Margaret did not
give this reassuring appearance. Perhaps I like Margaret better than I
do Geoffrey. Certainly I was more afraid she would fall out of the
cherry tree.

She finally passed out of my sight. After a prolonged interval of
silence, I suggested to Margaret that she come down.

"My foot is caught," returned my sister, her tone of voice wholly
explanatory. "It won't come out."

"The shoe tapers to a point," I called encouragingly. "Try to turn it
sideways and pull backwards at the same time."

"Barbara," said my sister tonelessly, "I just said it wouldn't come
out."

"Then you'll have to take your foot out, and leave the slipper up
there," I responded with finality.

"What would Mother do?" called Margaret from her lady's bower.

It was so obvious, even to me, that Mother would not have been up a tree
at this hour that I could only repeat my original project of abandoning
the slipper. I learned afterwards that it is not an entirely
uncomplicated process to buckle in the centre when swinging in a
tree-top with one foot stationary and a tin pail on one's arm, and untie
a slipper-strap without tipping the pail or falling out of the tree.
Margaret soon appeared within my line of vision, listing dangerously,
chastened, dignified, and stocking-footed. She reminded me
simultaneously, as she descended, of a mystic Russian première danseuse,
a barefooted native swinging down his cocoanut grove, and High Diddle
Dumpling my son John.

I was rash enough later to inquire into the mechanics of retrieving the
slipper, but Margaret, as she finished her tart, replied so
appropriately in the words of the Scriptures as to be too sacrilegious
to repeat.

As our nonchalant day wore on, I lighted the gas-oven for popovers.
Popovers are casuals. They are not supposed to be a _chef d'oeuvre_.
They are the high-grade moron of the hot-bread family. A guest expects
the popovers to be good, just as he expects the butter to be good. I
expected mine to be good.

As they neared the crisis, the city gas was shut off. I acted instantly,
treating the phenomenon as a rare exception in housekeeping. I aroused a
dying fire in the coal range with great speed and an abundance of
kindling, and conveyed my gems across kitchen. It is a sweet-tempered
popover, indeed, which will bear shifting from a hot oven to a
moderately comfortable one. I began steadily to lose my unconcern. Once
on my knees before an oven door, I usually ask no quarter and receive no
advice. Advice is sometimes given me, but my advisers realize that it is
not being received. This time I called Margaret in consultation.

"I think they are going to pop," she pronounced judicially, "but not
over." She was right.

Does Life hold, I wonder, a more sorrowful moment than that time when a
true cook has to instruct her guest to scoop out the inside of her
popover for the chickens, and eat only the outside? Every one knows that
delicate tinkling sound that a good popover makes when tossed on a china
plate. These made somewhat the same sound as a Florida orange. We
learned quite cogently that evening that Hospitality may depend, not
upon greatness of heart, but upon the gas stove.

This experience of ours, however, could not be regarded strictly as a
test case. Any one would admit that all of our adversity was unusual. It
is the rare exception when all the pipes in the house burst at once,
when there is no gas in the gas-stove, and when one loses a slipper in
making a cherry pie.

It took another day to show us that running a house _normally_ consists
in dealing with a succession of unusual events.

We did not court disaster, or attempt anything ambitious. We had not
even planned to invite any more company. But an old friend of Geoffrey's
appeared at our door in uniform with his new wife, to wait over a train.
Margaret promptly invited them to lunch. Our lunch, as already planned,
was simple. We told them that it would be simple. Margaret leans, during
hot weather, to such things as iced tea, lettuces, cheese wafers, and
simple frozen desserts. Fiction has it that the water-ices are the
simplest of anything. They _are_ simple to eat. We had planned to freeze
the water-ice together. But in view of the fact that we had company,
Margaret, who had first suggested our simple dessert, slipped quietly
out to freeze it alone.

Ice may be cold stuff, but it is heating to chop. Three minutes may
freeze a pudding in some freezers, but not in ours. As much time wore
away, I gradually hitched my chair in a backward direction, to permit a
stealthy glance at Margaret on the back piazza. It is almost as wearing
to hold our freezer down as it is to turn the crank. Margaret was doing
both at once, stopping frequently to chase a slippery chunk of ice about
with her pick, chivying the bits of ice and salt finally into a cup. Her
cheeks had become flushed a vivid freight-car color. It was with great
relief that I finally saw her peer into the freezer, remove the dasher,
and proceed to seal up her confection and cover it with newspapers and
an astrakhan cape.

The precise moment when a water-ice becomes simple is when it is
smoothly slipped into a long-stemmed sherbet glass. Our guests, we
think, enjoyed our simple meal. But after they had gone, the word which
exactly described our state of mind was not the word nonchalant.

"Barbara!" said Margaret energetically, "for supper, let's open a box of
blueberries."

We did. Blueberries really _are_ simple. We made our evening meal of
them, accompanied by a few left-over popover skins.

Margaret and I still feel that we could deal somewhat hopefully with a
leaking pipe. We still think that our calamities were a little out of
the ordinary. But we do not wonder quite so much now that Mother does
not wholly appreciate her dinner when she has guests, that she does not
oftener make simple frozen desserts, or that she stays in such close
company with her wheels when they are on their way around.



THE WILL TO BOSS


There are people who have a right to boss;--parents, for instance, and
generals in the army. With these we are not concerned. But most of us,
not officially in authority, now and then have ideas of our own that we
are willing to pass on. Some of us have them more than others.

The typical boss is usually a capable executive with a great unselfish
imagination and the gift of speech. He usually knows enough to curb
himself in public; it is only in the home that his tendencies run riot.
In a family where all the brothers and sisters belong to this type, you
can run riot only to a certain extent. If you go too far, you meet
somebody else also running riot, and collisions ensue.

If you are an elder sister, for instance, with a tendency toward what
your younger brothers call "getting bossy," you find yourself constantly
having vivid mental pictures of the best way to do a given thing. With
these fancy-pictures in mind, it is hard for you to believe that your
companions have any ideas at all. As you look at another person from the
outside, you find it hard to believe that his head is working. If our
heads were only made like these ovens with glass in the door, so that
you could watch the half-baked thinking rise and fall--but no. Your
brother sitting carelessly on the veranda may have his mind on the time;
he may be planning just how he will presently rush to his room, bathe
and change, snatch his hat, run to the station, and connect with the
train on daylight-saving time. He may be thinking hard about all this,
but he does not look as if he were. You fidget while the minutes go by,
and then you go to the window and speak. If your spirit has been broken
by much browbeating for past attempts to give advice, you speak timidly.
If you are of stouter stuff, you speak roughly to your little boy.

"Tom," you say (timidly or roughly as the case may be)--"I suppose you
know what time it is."

"Yes," says Tom.

That ought to end it. But if you are a true boss, you go on. You know
that you are being irritating. You know that Tom is of age. But you are
willing, like all great prophets, to risk unpopularity for the sake of
your Message. The spirit of the crier in the wilderness is upon you, and
you keep at it until one of two things happens. If Tom is in a good
temper, he goes upstairs to humor you, with a condescending tread and a
tired sigh. If he is fractious, he argues: Did you ever know him to miss
a train? Did you ever hear of his forgetting an appointment? How do you
suppose he ever manages to get to places when you are away from home?

My brother Geoffrey, in his day, has been a great sufferer from this
kind of thing. As memory reviews his youth, there stands out only one
occasion when he really achieved anything like freedom from sisterly
counsel. This was when he picked the pears. The pears on six large
loaded trees were ready to harvest. Geoffrey said that he was willing to
pick, but not to pick to order. We would have to engage to let him pick
the pears in his own way. We promised, though we knew too well our
brother's way of picking pears. He holds quite a little reception from
the tree-tops, entertaining passers-by with delightful repartee, and
giving everybody a pear. As time goes on, he gets to throwing pears.
"Somebody will get hurt," said our mother anxiously. But a contract is a
contract, and we tried not to look out of the window. In this
unaccustomed air of freedom, Geoffrey's spirits rose and rose. High in
the branches, taking his time, he grew more and more abandoned. He had
just reached the very top of the tallest tree when he saw far up the
street the form of the ugliest and largest dog who ever visited our
town, a strange white creature named Joe--a dog hard to define, but
resembling one's childhood idea of the blood-hound type. Every one spoke
of this dog as "Joseph A. Graham": "Joe" seemed too simple a name to be
in scale with his size and ferocity. Down the street he came, loafing
along. Geoffrey, ordinarily kind to pets, selected a large mellow pear,
aimed it with steady eye, and hit Joseph A. Graham, accurately,
amidships. Joseph flew up into the air, landed on a slant, gathered his
large feet together for a plunge, and came dashing down the street with
murder in his great red eye. At that moment Geoffrey looked down and saw
with horror that an elderly gentleman was just coming up the street. It
was obvious that Joseph thought that the old gentleman threw the pear.
Geoffrey, emitting hoarse cries of warning, came swarming down the tree
to the rescue, swinging from branch to branch like an orang-outang. The
elderly gentleman, grasping the situation in the nick of time, stepped
neatly inside our screen door, and Joseph, thwarted of reprisal, snuffed
around the steps, muttered to himself for a few moments, and then went
shuffling on down the street. Geoffrey, still ardently apologizing to
the passer-by, went back to his tree-top to recover from this, the only
troubled moment in that influential day.

By clever bargaining, you can occasionally buy off your natural advisers
in this way, and enjoy perfect independence. But there are projects that
really call for a good boss. When a number of people are at work
together, the trained worker should direct the group. Even in your
family, you are allowed to be an autocrat in things that are your
specialty. But you are supposed to be pleasant about it. This is not so
easy when you are in the full heat of action. When you have your mind on
a difficult project, your commands to your helpers are apt to sound
curt. You are likely to talk to them as if they were beneath you. The
unskilled helper in an affair demanding skill gives the impression of
belonging to an inferior class--something a little below the social
status of a coolie. He even feels inferior, and is therefore touchy. If
you order him too gruffly, he is likely to take offence and knock off
for the day.

Barbara, for instance, once very nearly lost a valued slave when I was
giving her my awkward assistance about the camera. She had decided to
take a picture of Israel Putnam's Wolf-Den from a spot where no
camera-tripod had ever been pitched before. The Wolf-Den sits on a slant
above a cliff in the deep woods. At one side of it there is a capital
place from which to take its picture, a level spot on which a tripod
will stand securely. From this point most of the pictures hitherto taken
of the Den were snapped. But Barbara was resolved to get a full front
view to show the lettering on a bronze tablet that had recently been
placed on the Den. She wanted a time exposure, and she said that she was
going to need assistance. Her idea was to stand on a jutting rock just
at the edge of the cliff and hold the camera in the desired position
while the rest of the party adjusted the legs of the tripod beneath it.

Every one who has ever set up a tripod knows that its loosely hinged
legs can be elongated or telescoped by a system of slides and screws. In
order to arrange our tripod with all its three pods on the uneven
ground, we found that we must shorten one leg to its extreme shortness,
and lengthen the second leg to its maximum length. This left the third
leg out in the air over the brink of the precipice. Our guest was to
manage the short leg, our mother was to manage the important and
strategic leg among the rocks, and I offered to build a combination of
bridge and flying buttress out from the slope of the cliff, for the
third.

We started our project with that cordial fellow-feeling that rises from
a common faith in a visionary enterprise, and I am sure that we could
have kept that beautiful spirit to the end if it had not been for the
mosquitoes. There are no wolves at the Wolf-Den now, but on a muggy day
the mosquitoes are just as hungry. They rise all around in insubstantial
drifts, never seeming to alight, yet stinging in clusters. A true
Wolf-Den mosquito can land, bite, and make good his escape before you
have finished brushing him out of your eyes. You cannot brush insects
out of your eyes, slap the back of your neck, and take a picture at the
same time. Barbara, both hands busy holding the camera, was desperately
kicking the ankle of one foot with the toe of the other. I counted
fifteen mosquitoes sitting unmoved around the rims of her low shoes.

"Don't take too much pains with that bridge," said she to me in
considerate company tones.

"No," said I respectfully, "but I have to build it up high enough to
meet the leg."

"Well, then, hurry," said she, still kindly.

"Yes," said I evenly, "I am."

When two sisters discourse like this before a guest, there creeps into
their voices a note of preternatural sweetness, a restraint and
simplicity of utterance that speak volumes to the trained ear.

I was hurrying all I could, but for my unnatural bridge I had not the
materials I could have wished. I found a weathered wooden fence-rail,
balanced one end of it on the cliff and the other end in the crotch of a
big tree that leaned over the side hill; but this bridge had to be built
up with a pile of sand, leaves, small stones, and stubble balanced
carefully upon it. Meanwhile, my mother was busily drilling a hole in
the rock to make a firm emplacement at a distance for leg number two.

Finally our three positions were approximately correct, and the more
delicate process of adjustment began. Barbara, from under her dark
cloth, gave muffled directions. We obeyed, shifting, screwing,
unscrewing, adjusting. Our guest was still cheery. Success hovered
before us in plain sight. So did the mosquitoes. Barbara's directions
began to sound tense. They sounded especially tense when she spoke to
me. I was balancing precariously part-way down the shale cliff, digging
in my heels and doing the best I could with the materials at hand.
Looking timidly up at my sister's black-draped, mosquito studded figure,
I had been first conciliatory, then surly, then sullen. Barbara had now
begun to focus.

"Lower!" said Barbara between her teeth.

Obediently we all three lowered.

"No, no, not you!" said Barbara to me. "Yours was too low already."

There are moments in this life when the presence of a guest is an
impediment to free speech. Barbara, as anybody can see, had the
advantage. She was the commanding officer. Any response from me would
have been a retort from the ranks. Since one of her other two helpers
was her mother and the other a guest, her words to them had to be
sugared. In a sugar-shortage, it is the lower classes who suffer. By
this time one could easily distinguish her directions to me by their
truculent tone.

"Make the bridge a trifle higher," said she curtly.

I obediently brought another grain of sand.

"Higher!"

I silently added five smooth stones.

"Oh, build it up!" she begged. "You ought to see the slant."

I pried a large boulder from the ledge and balanced it on the rail.

"Your rail's breaking!" cried my mother, so suddenly that I lost my
footing.

I seized the leg of the tripod in one hand, the branch of a tree with
the other, while the flying buttress went rumbling down the defile, and
I was left clinging to the bare rock, that refuge of the wild goat.

We have now some very attractive pictures of the Den, taken from a spot
where no tripod was ever pitched before, and where I hope no tripod will
be pitched again. But as we developed the plates that night, I told
Barbara that I did not think that I was qualified to help her much about
the camera any more.

"You were all right," said she kindly. "It was the mosquitoes."

And I was mollified by this as perhaps I could have been by no logic in
the world.

The right to boss is conceded to the expert. It is also sometimes
extended to members of the family who are for the time being in the
centre of the stage. At such times you are permitted to dictate--when
you are to have a guest, for instance, or when you are about to be
married. For a day or two before the wedding, your wish is law. You
really need to stay on hand until the last minute, however, to enforce
the letter of the law to the end. Otherwise, circumstances may get ahead
of you.

Geoffrey, for example, directly after announcing his engagement to our
best friend Priscilla Sherwood, enjoyed a time of perfect power. He knew
that he needed only to say, "Priscilla likes so and so," and so and so
would follow. Barbara and I reminded him that we knew Priscilla better
than he did, but we could not say that we were engaged to her. Just
before the wedding, Geoffrey took us aside to explain seriously about
his plans, and to give us our orders for the day.

"We don't want you to throw anything," said Geoffrey reasonably. "No
rice or confetti or shoes. And you needn't even see us to the train.
Priscilla doesn't care about any demonstration, and I think it would be
just as well to go off quietly. We'd just as soon the other people on
the train didn't know we were a bride and groom."

Barbara and I, struck with the originality of this point of view,
promised to throw nothing. Priscilla, meanwhile, reasoned equally well
with her brothers. After the wedding, we all stood cordially on the
curbstone and let them drive off to the train. Then, deserted, the two
families confronted each other rather blankly.

"It doesn't seem as if they had actually gone, does it?" said Barbara
uneasily.

"They wouldn't mind if we waved to them when the train goes out, would
they?" began one of the Sherwoods tentatively.

Barbara was inspired. "Come on down to our house," said she, "and then
they can see us from the train."

One of the advantages of a home near the railway is the fact that you
can see your friends off on trips without leaving your dooryard. Each
man for himself, we went streaming down the last hill, fearing at any
minute to hear the train pull out. To our dismay, we saw that a long
freight-train was standing on the siding in such a position as to cut
off our view of the express.

"When you are on the train," I panted as I ran, "you can see our
upstairs windows even when freight-cars are in the way."

"We'll wave out of the front windows," said Barbara, and we all rushed
upstairs.

"They'll never think to look up here, will they?" said one of the
brothers Sherwood anxiously as we peered out along the vista of track.
"The pear trees are in the way."

"We might just step outside the window," said Barbara resourcefully.
"The piazza roof is perfectly safe. Then they couldn't help seeing us."

Wrapping our best clothes about us, we crept out through the window one
by one, and went cautiously along the tin roof to a vantage-point beyond
the pear trees. When a company of grown people goes walking on a tin
roof, there are moments of shock when the tin bubbles snap and crackle,
making a sound nothing short of terrifying, like the reverberations of
season-cracks in the ice on a pond. We ranged ourselves in a row near
the eaves-pipe, just in time. The train went hooting by. They saw us. We
waved the wedding flowers, and they waved back. We saw them laughing. We
waved until the end of the train disappeared around the curve. And as we
assisted each other politely one by one through the window again, we had
a comfortable sensation of having wound up the affair with a finish and
completeness that had been lacking after the first farewell.

Still feeling a little uplifted with excitement, we went up the street
to report events to our grandmother.

"You mean to say that you went up on to the _roof_ to wave?" said our
grandmother.

"Well," said Barbara thoughtfully, "it didn't seem quite like going up
on the roof at the time. It all happened so gradually. We just stepped
out."

"And they saw you?" inquired Grandmother.

"Oh, yes. Nobody could help it. Everybody saw us." Barbara glowed
reminiscently.

"And you waved the wedding flowers?"

"Yes," said Barbara happily. "Father Sherwood gave us each an armful."

"Well," said our grandmother, resuming her sewing, "I shouldn't wonder
if the other passengers on that train thought that something had
happened to Geoffrey."

                   *       *       *       *       *

To govern one's own kinsmen successfully, one certainly does need to be
on the spot. One cannot afford to leave them for an instant. One should
be alert and watchful, and as diplomatic as circumstances will allow.
The ability to boss implies a ready understanding and the knack of
seeing the end from the beginning. It implies also a hardy constitution
and the gift of tongues. But after all, in the last analysis, it is
largely a matter of the Will.



MORE TO IT THAN YOU'D THINK


I am often reminded of a lady, who, during the war, volunteered to
oversee all the Canteen work for soldiers passing through our town. Her
favorite phrase, accompanied by a surprised accent, became the following
one: "There's more _to_ this job than you'd think from the outside
looking in." Then she would proceed with many astounding details:
soldiers who required two cups of coffee, or three lumps of sugar, milk
that in the course of time became dubious, and trains that in the course
of time became late.

I sympathized with this lady and helped her wash the dishes. And I have
never questioned her statement. Moreover, I have yet to find the job to
which this statement does not apply. I suppose that, until you become a
postal clerk, you know very little about the intricacies into which a
capital "S" may go, or how the rats eat the stamps. A job is always
annotated for the employee.

Certainly, teaching school introduces you to manifold works which could
not be anticipated by looking in. In fact, when my friendly janitor once
said that it must be very easy to teach the First Grade, I caught myself
falling back on the popular phrase with some emotion--"There's more to
it than you'd think." My most baffling problems were just a little too
complex to mention to my janitor.

"What instantly comes to your mind," says my college friend who is
"taking" Psychology, "when I say the word 'ping-pong'?"

I tell him. By right of which I retaliate, "What instantly comes to your
mind when I say the word 'sand-table'?"

"Oh, little paper pine trees," responds the student (who is also
"taking" Education),--"and wigwams and canoes, and a real piece of glass
for a pond."

All this comes to my mind, too,--with addenda. The addenda, however,
come to my mind first: Spilling Sand, Sweeping up Sand, Trailing your
fingers in Sand as you march past, and, if you are _very_ newly five
years old, Throwing Sand. This is not because I am soured on the
sand-table. I have merely learned that there is more _to_ one than you
would suspect from the outside of one, looking in. Sand-tables may mean
pine trees, and they may mean pandemonium.

Throw several such freighted words into a mixed group, and the reactions
are passionately interesting. If you say, "Muscular movement," "Interest
and Attention," "Socialized Classes," or "Projects," you can sift out
the school-teachers by their smile.

In fact, there is a very large group of noun substantives which mark,
for an Elementary teacher, at least, the seasons of the year. Usually
she has a top drawer full of these. Many a teacher longs for the
horse-chestnut-on-a-string season to appear, if only to finish up the
season of the maple-key;--that large pale-green maple-key, which, by
clever splitting of the central seed, may be made to stay on one's nose.
My young friend Junior O'Brien once read to me "The Three Billy Goats
Gruff," with a maple-key over each ear, one on his freckled nose, and
two on his apple cheeks. I gave over my reading-lesson period to
researches as to how his hard little cheeks could yield enough slack to
accommodate a key; and before I was ready to ask Junior to remove his
decorations, the force of gravity intervened.

The maple-key, I suppose, suggests eye-glasses. Certainly a bit of wire,
twisted into spectacles, follows keys. These may be very ornate in the
upper grades, more nearly approaching the lorgnette, or even the
opera-glass. It is a fascinating thing to see what a wire hairpin
correctly treated will do to a young face. It lightens my day's load,
this vision of grave childish eyes through the twisted rims, and that
magnificent effort of will, contrary to nature, to obtain perfect
immobility of the nose.

In company with the gross of wire spectacles in my drawer are numerous
"snapping-bugs." These may be bought for one cent each, in the
snapping-bug season, of the ice-cream man. They are double bugs of tin,
which, if pinched in the proper spot, will yield a sharp click
reminiscent of the old-fashioned stereopticon lecture. Snapping-bugs may
go far in "socializing" a First Grade, and in making friends with a
newcomer at recess, but when they snap in school they give me an uneasy
sense that my audience is in haste to have the picture changed. So I
have six snapping-bugs.

I have five tumble-bugs. These are vivid green or purple gelatin
capsules about an inch long, each housing a lead ball. Place the bug on
an inclined plane, and it will promptly turn right side up, or the other
side up, as long as the plane continues to incline. Since tumble-bugs
are practically noiseless, their life is somewhat longer than that of
their snapping cousins.

I have one sling-shot. It might be argued that First Graders are too
young for sling-shots. So they are. They all too often receive their own
charge full in the eye. They much prefer their comfortable acorn pipes.
These are pandemic in October, as are also balloons.

I once perceived Dominick, in the height of the balloon season, with a
frankfurter balloon, a shape then new. The active part was at just that
moment inert--a dried and crumpled wisp of rubber. But its tube was
unmistakably going to be blown. Dominick will never know how much his
teacher wished to see his balloon, properly inflated, swaying and
glowing as only a green sausage balloon can glow. I was deterred by a
misgiving as to whether this type of balloon collapsed quietly after its
magnificent spectacle, or whether it was of that variety which emits a
peculiar penetrating whistle as it shrinks--an unmistakable sound, due
to be placed accurately in her list of sounds by my teacher-friend next
door, who does not approve of balloons in academic session. Dominick,
however, wished more than I did to see his lighter-than-air craft in all
its glory. I finally deposited it among the false noses and
horse-chestnuts in my drawer.

I used to wonder why a teacher _wanted_ marbles and walnuts, and
pencil-sharpeners shaped like a rabbit. She doesn't. She simply does not
want to hear them dropping, dropping, ever dropping, like the pennies in
Sabbath School. There is something thrilling to _any_body about a real
agate. If it is about, you have to look at it. It is so perfectly round.
Anything perfectly round, or perfectly cylindrical, likes, as we learn
in Kindergarten, to roll. It likes, upon occasion, to "rest"; but it
does not like this nearly as well. It is not fair to a child to let him
spend his time playing with an agate in school. Neither is it fair to
him to destroy the beauty of an agate for him--the charm of its shape,
or the marvel of its construction. A teacher should strike a medium so
delicately and absolutely medium that the angels themselves pause lest
they jar the weights.

But the most curious phenomenon which I have observed, one which could
not possibly be anticipated by an outsider looking in, is the effect of
my setting the clock. There are times when a perfectly innocent
shuffling of thirty-four feet in the First Grade assumes proportions far
more important than Murder in the First Degree. Then it is that I set
the clock. If it does not need setting, I set it forward first, and then
back again. The clock is high on the wall, reached by the janitor (all
too seldom) from a very high step-ladder. I set it from the floor. I
take the yardstick and advance on the clock. It is a nice operation to
push up the glass crystal with a pliant stick, haul down the
minute-hand, and finally to close the door. The door must first be
lifted into its proper position, and then hammered shut. Each bang of
the yardstick sounds as if it would be followed certainly by showers of
broken glass. I think that this uncertainty is what keeps my pupils'
hearts fluttering and their feet still. Deathly silence always
accompanies my setting of the clock. An imperceptible sound of relief,
like a group-sigh, follows the click of the door in its catch. I can
tiptoe back, on that sigh, to quiet industry.

It is true that children, with the best intentions, sometimes bring
inappropriate busy-work to school. But teaching them has not dowered me
with any disdain for my students. They are beneath me only in years. In
fact, I raise my hat to some of them in spirit, as I teach them to raise
theirs to me in truth. Here and there I calmly recognize a superior. I
am constantly taking care that no youthful James Watt can say to me in
later years, "You put out my first tea-kettle which boiled in school."

I suppose that Pauline will eventually be a gracious hostess, saying
just the right thing to her guests and to her husband--charming every
masculine acquaintance on sight. Even now, I find that she is engaged,
provisionally, to James Henry Davis. Perhaps some day Adamoskow, with
his long clever fingers and his dreamy eyes, and no head whatever for
"number," will be charging me five dollars a seat to hear him play. His
impresario can count the change for him.

And I know that James Henry Davis, at seventeen, will have the power to
break hearts to the right of him, and hearts to the left of him, with
the same dimple, the same wonderful pompadour, and the same lifted
eyebrow that he now uses for the same purpose in Grade I. I know that he
will out-dance his dancing-master at his Junior Prom. I shall wonder,
when I see him in his white gloves, how I ever dared to take his acorn
pipe away. Therefore I take it away as innocuously as possible, and
touch his soft pompadour, in passing, with a reverent hand.



TRIO IMPETUOSO


The first steps of certain things are beautiful; the first flush of buds
along a maple branch, for instance, or the first smooth launching of an
Indian canoe. But the first steps of music are commonly not so. The
first note of a young robin is a squawk. The first piercing note of a
young violinist is not in tune with the music of any sphere.

Musicians learn to expect a certain amount of wear and tear in first
attempts. Even the professional orchestra makes bad work of a new
symphony the first time through. And in an amateur orchestra, where the
players are of various grades of proficiency, the playing of a new piece
of music is a hazardous affair.

In our own orchestra, when we read a new piece of music for the first
time, we usually decide to "try it once through without stopping." Come
what will, we will meet it together. The great thing is to keep going.
Sometimes we emerge from this enterprise with all bows flying and
everybody triumphantly prolonging the same last note. At other times we
come out at the finish one by one, each man for himself, like the
singers in an old-fashioned round-song rendering of "Three Blind Mice."

To enjoy playing in an orchestra like ours, the musician should have a
great soul and a rugged nervous system. He should not be too proud to
play his best on music that is too easy for him, and he should not be
afraid to try music that is too hard. Music within the easy reach of
every member of an amateur orchestra is scarce. The first time through,
there is usually somebody who has to skirmish anxiously along,
experimenting softly to himself when he loses his place, and coming out
strong when he finds it again. From among the many desirable notes in a
rapid passage, he chooses as many as he can hit in the time allowed,
playing selected grace-notes here and there, and skipping the rest. We
cannot all have everything.

Most amateurs call this process "vamping the part." This, and the clever
deed known as "cueing in" passages supposed to be played by instruments
that we lack, are our chief offences against the law.

There are proud spirits in the world who refuse to have anything to do
with either of these sins. When they come to a passage that is not well
within their reach, they lay down the fiddle and the bow, and sit back
tolerantly while the rest go on without them. Their motto is the one
made famous by a certain publishing house: _Tout bien ou rien._ That is
a fine watchword for a publisher, but fatal in a scrub orchestra. There,
it is likely to mean that "tout" must go "bien," or you resign.

Nobody has ever resigned from our orchestra. We are called a Trio,
because our minimum is three. But, in actual fact, we rarely play with
less than seven performers. Whenever we are about to play in public, we
reënforce ourselves with additional instruments, beginning with a
favorite extra violin. If we are to play in the evening, we can count on
a viola and a clarinet, played respectively by the senior and the junior
partner of a hardware firm: Mr. Bronson and Mr. Billings, of Bronson and
Billings. If we are to play on Sunday, we are sure of a double-bass. And
on state occasions, we are joined by an attorney-at-law who plays the
piccolo. People who invite us to play always request music by Our Trio,
and then inquire delicately how many of us there will be.

A trio of this kind is sure to be in demand. In making our way to the
place where we are to play, we have learned to go in relays through the
streets. This is not because we are ashamed to be seen carrying the
badge of our talent through the town, but because if we all go together
there is a discussion about who shall carry what instruments. Barbara,
our 'cellist, is the storm-centre of these broils. The 'cello, like some
people, has the misfortune to look a great deal heavier than it really
is. No gentleman likes to let a lady carry one.

"Really, it's as light as a feather," says Barbara, swinging it easily
alongside.

"But," reasons the viola earnestly, "think how it looks."

To avoid all friction, Barbara goes ahead with the gentleman who plays
the bass-viol. Together they present a striking aspect to the passer-by,
but they have peace and mutual understanding in their hearts. Nobody
could expect a gentleman, however gallant, to carry both a 'cello and a
double-bass.

The rest of us follow along at a safe distance, and arrive at becoming
intervals at the place where we are to play.

For convenience in talking among ourselves, we have divided our
performances into three classes: the platform performance, the
semi-screened, and the screened. Our semi-screened programmes are those
where we are partly hidden from view, in choir-lofts, conservatories,
verandas, and anterooms. The screened are those that take place behind
palms. Of all these sorts, we vastly prefer the screened.

Each of us has a special reason for this preference. Mr. Bronson, the
viola, prefers it because, screened, he is allowed to beat time with his
foot. There is something very contented-looking about the tilt of his
long shoe, thrust out informally amidst the shrubbery--the toe rising
and falling in exact rhythm with the music, now legato, now
appassionato, our perfect metronome. Such happiness is contagious.

Barbara likes to be screened because then she can dig a tiny hole in the
floor for the end-pin of the 'cello, and stick the pin into it once for
all, while she plays. The vogue of the waxed hardwood floor is a great
trial to 'cellists. It is upsetting to feel your great instrument
skidding out from under you suddenly, with a jerk that you can neither
foresee nor control. When we go to places where the device of boring a
hole in the floor may not be well received, Barbara takes along a neat
strip of stair-carpet, anchors it at one end with her chair and at the
other with her music-stand, and sits on it firmly, much as the ancient
Roman used to camp upon a square of tessellated pavement brought with
him from Rome.

Mr. Billings, the clarinet, likes the screened performance because his
wife has told him that he has a mannerism of arching his eyebrows when
he plays. In playing a wind-instrument, the eyebrows are a great help.
He can arch them all he likes, behind the palms.

The rest of us enjoy the sense of cosy safety that comes when we arrange
our racks, distribute the parts, and settle down with our backs to the
foliage for an evening of music, out of sight. We can play old
favorites, far too tattered to appear on a printed programme; new things
not sufficiently rehearsed; extracts from compositions that we cannot
play beyond a certain point; and, best of all, those beloved collections
of what Mr. Robert Haven Schauffler used to call "derangements." All
these things, barred by the platform artist, we play blissfully, behind
the potted plants.

Since everybody outside our leafy covert is talking, we are free, not
only from criticism, but also from the obligation of acknowledging
applause. All the little niceties of platform procedure--bowings, exits,
dealing with encores--are out of the question. Since we play
continuously, there is no chance for encores.

There has been one exception to this rule. One night at a Saint
Patrick's Day banquet, Our Trio was out in full force. Even the piccolo
was with us. Our corner was carefully walled in with heavy burlap
screens, because this was a business-men's supper, and no ladies were
supposed to be present. We had brought along a sheaf of Irish music in
honor of the day, and we played it unexpectedly after a series of other
things. As we finished one of the appealing Irish airs, the applause
broke out all over the hall in a genuine encore. We listened,
electrified, laying an ear to the cracks. Barbara, who thinks that we
are altogether too easily set up by the plaudits of the crowd, stood up,
'cello at an angle, and made a series of elaborate bows for our benefit
behind the screen. The viola sprang to his feet and joined her, and they
were bowing and scraping hand in hand like Farrar and Caruso, when the
front screen was thrown suddenly wide open by the toastmaster who had
been sent to request an encore, and no less than forty gentlemen looked
in. Since that time, we have not felt too sheltered, even with burlap
screens.

The question of applause, so nearly negligible in the screened
performance, is a matter of the greatest moment on the platform. The
process of responding to it is complicated by numbers. A solo artist can
step in easily, bow, and step out again. But it takes too long for a
trio of eight or more to step in, bow, and step out. We have to wait
behind the scenes for a real encore.

We are highly gratified at a chance to play our encores, of which we
carry a supply. The only hitch is the little matter of deciding just
what an encore is. The viola thinks that an encore consists of applause
going in waves--starting to die out and reviving again in gusts of
hearty clapping. Two such gusts, he says, should comprise an encore. But
our pianist thinks that we should wait until the clapping stops
entirely, and that, if it then bursts out afresh, it shall be esteemed
an encore.

One evening the encore was by every standard unmistakable. Our mother
was at the piano that night, and, supposing that we were ready, led the
way in. The rest of us, absorbed in giving out the parts of the music,
did not see her go. We waited, wondering where she was. Tempests of
amused applause meanwhile surged up around our lonely accompanist
stranded in the hall. We heard the thundering, and scattered in frantic
search. One of us could have played the piano part, but the music for
that had disappeared as well as the musician. The double-bass chanced
upon the janitor's little boy in the corridor, and asked him if he knew
where our accompanist could be.

"Why, yes! Can't you hear 'em clap?" said the boy in surprise. "She's
went in."

I have heard that there are sensitive people who are jarred upon by
applause, people who hold the perfect-tribute theory: they think that
the audience, out of respect to the artist, ought to remain reverently
silent after each number. I cannot answer for the great artist, but I
know that our trio does not feel that way about it. We like applause.
Silence is a mysterious thing. From behind the stage how are you to tell
a reverent hush from a shocked one? The trained ear can instantly
classify applause; but silence, however reverent, does not carry well
behind the scenes. We like a little something after each number to cheer
us on.

We do know, however, that in a small private audience there is a sense
of strain if the listeners feel obliged to make a demonstration after
each selection. Clapping seems affected in a group of three or four, and
the business of thinking up well-selected remarks is a serious matter.
Knowing this, we always relieve our drawing-room audiences of
embarrassment by making the remarks ourselves. The moment the last
lingering whisper has completely died away from the strings, we turn as
one man and begin to compliment the music. "We like that ending better
than any other part of the whole thing," we say appreciatively. This
lifts a load of anxiety from the minds of our hearers, and serves to
break the hush.

The question of playing to guests in our own home is the subject on
which our family _ensemble_ most nearly came to mutiny. Our father had a
way, contrary to orders, of suggesting a little music when we had
visitors. The rest of us objected to this, especially if the guests were
people who did not play. Once, when an evening of hospitality to
strangers was in store, our mother was giving us all our final
instructions. She turned to our father last of all.

"Endicott," she began impressively, "this evening you mustn't say the
word 'music' unless somebody else suggests it. If they want us to play,
they will ask us."

Our father, a little grieved to think that any one should worry lest he
do so strange a thing, promised to comply.

But that evening, finding the guests more and more congenial in the
midst of firelight conversation, he turned to them cordially and said,
"I know that this is just the time when you would enjoy a little music,
but I have been told that I must not say the word unless you suggest it
first."

The guests, highly diverted, rose to the occasion and begged prettily.
They said that they had been starving for some music all along. When
visitors who do not really care for music have once been launched on the
process of asking for it, the kindest thing to do is to play promptly
something brief and sweet and trailing--some _Abendlied_ or
_Albumblatt_, for instance, and have it over. In the presence of guests,
such family crises must be tided over with neat persiflage. It was only
after the company had gone that the mutiny took place.

But there is one kind of audience that we like the best of all.
Sometimes of an early summer evening, when our whole orchestra has
gathered to rehearse for a performance that we have in store, the
relatives and friends of the players ask to be allowed to come and
listen. We arrange the hammock and steamer-chairs in a screened corner
outside the house, and there our listeners--perhaps the sister of the
bass-viol, the business partner of the piccolo, and a neighbor or
two--settle themselves comfortably under the windows. Then we play,
interrupted only by an occasional shout from outside, when somebody
requests an encore, or asks what that last thing was. Our steamer-chair
audience has often begged us to announce the composer and the name of
each selection as we go along, and we usually appoint somebody to do
this, megaphoning the titles through the window. But before we have gone
very far, we forget our audience. They lie there neglected, scattered on
the lawn. The dew falls around them, the shadows gather over them, and
they give up the attempt to attract our notice. We are rehearsing now,
not performing, and our blood is up.

Sometimes we have a strong-minded guest who refuses to be treated in
this way. He declines the steamer-chair, with steamer-rug and cushion,
preferring to sit against the wall in a cramped corner of the room where
we are playing. We assure him that the music sounds better from a
distance, but he begs to be allowed to stay. He says that he likes to
watch as well as listen. This does not disturb us; we are rather
flattered if the truth were known. In fact, we know a little how he
feels. There is a dramatic and pictorial value in the humblest
orchestra, no matter how densely you populate your music-room. Usually
the guest who enjoys this sight is a person who would like to play if he
knew how--one who can join in the excitement when things are going well.

Like all amateurs, we do become excited. And when we are excited, we
tend to play faster and faster, and louder and louder, unless something
holds us up. "Pianissimo!" shouts the double-bass, fortissimo. Thus
exhorted, we settle down just as earnestly, but with more attention to
the waymarks and the phrasings of the score.

Probably it is at these moments that we do our very best. The bass-viol
standing by the fireplace, his genial face unsmiling now, intent, takes
the rich low harmony with great sweeps of his practised bow. Barbara,
over against the music-cabinet, plays smoothly on, her dark old 'cello
planted firmly, the shadow of her hair across its great brown pegs. Mr.
Billings, with pointed eyebrows arching steeply, pipes and carols above
us like a lark. And through it all the vibrant foot of Mr. Bronson
faithfully beats time.

"Why don't you get together and play like this often?" inquires the
sister of the bass-viol, when the audience at last, with arms full of
steamer-rugs and cushions, comes trailing in.

The piccolo, passing sandwiches, looks up with hearty response. "Yes,
why can't we?" he asks. "After the reception, let's try to keep it up."

The rest of us, fastening the covers around our instruments, give
enthusiastic consent. "Every other Monday, let's meet without fail," we
say. But in our hearts we know that we shall not. We shall all be
busy--all sorts of things will happen to prevent--and the weeks will
fly. Yet we know that sooner or later our trio will meet again--probably
for a desperate rehearsal some months hence, just in time for the next
event where we are asked to play.



THE RETURN OF A, B, C


That is, I used to hope that they were returning. My neighbor's small
son, Tony, aged six, needed them. He needed them to learn to read with.
This was before I had any first-hand evidence about modern school
methods. I saw school only through Tony.

Tony was able to read, "over to school," such excerpts as the following:
"The gingerbreadboy went clickety-clack down the road." "Sail far, sail
far, o'er the fabulous main!" "Consider, goat, consider!" "You have made
a mistake, Mr. Alligator." Just why, I reflected, should "Mr. Alligator"
and "fabulous" be introduced to a pleasant child like Tony, who had not
as yet been allowed to meet "cat," "dog," "hen," "red," "boy," "bad,"
and a great many other creatures really necessary to a little boy's
existence?

His mother knew that Tony was not learning to read very fast. She argued
with me a little on principle. She said that James Whitcomb Riley wrote
"fabulous." I reminded her in a neighborly way that Mr. Milton wrote the
"Areopagitica," thought by some to be a good sort, but that, until Tony
knew his letters, the "Areopagitica" would be almost wasted on him. I
would have stepped in at this point myself and ponied him a bit, for
pure love, had it not been for the fact that I hated to have him get a
sensible A, B, or C mixed up with such corrupting associates as a
considering goat or a mistaken alligator. And he would certainly have
mixed them up. He would never have been able in this world to decide in
his little mind what relation "consider" had to A,B,C. And he would have
been quite excusable.

I began to think that his mother was too optimistic. She was trying to
console herself by the fact that, if she should die, Tony could at least
order gingerbread off a menu card. But could he? The sad fact that my
neighbor overlooked was that he didn't know "gingerbread" when he saw
it, but just "gingerbread_boy_"! Perhaps even at that, Tony might not
have starved, for even gingerbread_boys_ are edible, if Tony really
could have recognized that. But he couldn't. Not outside the confines of
his "reading-book"--Heaven save the mark! A modern word-fiend tried to
explain to me here, that, after having learned "gingerbreadboy," a child
comes naturally by three words (and even four if they allowed "gin" in
the school curriculum)--namely, "ginger," "bread," and "boy." But Tony
didn't. I tried him. He looked upon "ginger" as an entire stranger,
interesting in form, perhaps, but still foreign. Something, I was
convinced, was wrong. And I attributed this state to the fact that Tony
didn't know A, B, and C.

Just as I reached the high noon of this conviction, I was drawn by the
most curious of circumstances into the business of teaching little
children to read. I held the novel position of being besought to bring
all my heresies and all my notions, and join the influenza-thinned ranks
of the teaching profession. The Board of Education said that it was
desperate. It must have been.

I suppose that no other power on earth could have converted me so
quickly to the decried method, as my being forced, out of loyalty to my
employers, to support it. I was plunged on the first day--not into
"clickety-clack," but "slippety-slip." It was my first object lesson to
hear the laughter of many little children, as the small gray cat
swallowed slippety-slip in rapid succession the white goose, the
cinnamon bear, the great, big pig, and others which have
"slippety-slipped" my mind just now. It was easy to teach them which
fantastic word said "slippety-slip." It was very hard to teach them
which plain-faced word said "and." I was happy to find many fine old
words ranging themselves in the same category as "slippety-slip."
"Goose" is intrinsically easier to learn than "duck"; "red" is a
bagatelle beside "blue." But the easiest word of all is "slippety-slip."

I took notes of phenomena like these, for use later in dealing with
critics who theorized as I had theorized on the day previous. I was not
quite ready with any solution on this first day when a visiting mother
assured me that she, when a girl, was wont to read much better when her
book was open before her. Her son, on the contrary, read better, she
told me, and with more interpretation and fine feeling, without his
book. "People think," said my visitor, "that when a child has his book
open and says aloud the words printed on that page, that he is reading.
He may be," she added mildly, "and then again, of course, he mayn't."

I determined that, when this logical lady should come again, her son
should be reading. So I taught him to read. I taught him via the method
I had disparaged; via "Mrs. Teapot," "Goosey-Poosey-Loosey," and the
goat that would not go home, without once mentioning the names of A, B,
or C. This boy is in the third grade now, skimming the "Literary Digest"
for material for his oral language.

The second step in my conversion occurred when one of the overworked
teachers showed me hastily how to teach Phonics. She drew a flight of
stairs on the blackboard, and on each step she placed a letter of the
alphabet. I did not find "A" among them, but I discerned both B and C.
To my surprise, the little children knew these, but they called them (as
nearly as the printed page can convey the sound) _buh_ and _kuh_. They
called "R" _err_, and "H" they called _huh_.

When I reached home, I looked up a few letters in the Dictionary, and
received new light. Of what use is it, after all, to know that "W" is
called "Double-you," unless you know first the sound for which it
stands? The Dictionary, in fact, explains that the proper sound of this
letter is really a "half u" instead of a "double u." Certainly "W" is a
more helpful tool to a child when he has been taught to pucker up his
lips like the howling wind when he sees this letter coming, than when he
has been taught to get set for a "d" sound which is not there. Why
confuse a child's mind at first with what a letter is arbitrarily called
by some one else? Surely it is more sensible to show him what noise to
make when he sees it.

But I found that some of the children did not connect the delightful
game of the blackboard stairs with their reading at all. Tony was among
this number. Right here I was electrified to find out the real trouble
with Tony. I found that it had not occurred to him that the letter "g,"
at the beginning of the word "good," for instance, could have any part
in distinguishing this word from the Little Red Hen. I found also that
many of the children were recognizing "good-day to you" wholly by the
quaint little dash in the middle of "good-day." They shouted heartily
"good-day to you" whenever I showed them any word containing a hyphen.

To remedy this difficulty, I abstracted Phonics bodily from my afternoon
session, and inserted it directly before the reading period in the
morning. In fact, I allowed a few Phonics to spill over into Reading,
and commenced to read a little before the children were quite finished
with the staircase. I can say that the greatest triumphal moment of my
life was when an entire class saw, independently and suddenly and of
themselves, that "ice-cream" could not possibly be "good-day to you."
And the fact that the children now knew these apart by a phonetic tool
did not prevent them from saying "good-day to you" just as cordially and
just as fast as before. Moreover, they had not compelled the school
system to wait for them to spell out the words letter by letter.

This is the only stage in a modern phrase-and-sentence method which
contains a pitfall. If this is solidly bridged, most children will learn
to read more understandingly than we used to. They will read twice as
well, and three times as fast.

At the end of the school year, after Tony had read nineteen books, I did
throw in the alphabet itself as a classic. We even sang it to the good
old-fashioned tune.

Tony will use A, B, and C, in the Second Grade to spell with, and in the
Fourth Grade to look up words in the Dictionary with; but he did not
need them, after all, in the First Grade, to learn to read with.



UNDERSTANDING THE HEALTHY


The healthy in all centuries have misunderstood the sick. In the days
when sickness was supposed to be the result of possession by devils, the
healthy gathered around the invalid, beating upon drums. When all
disease was supposed to be the chastening of the Lord, they gathered at
the bedside again, teaching repentance of sins. And in our own
generation, they come again around the sufferer telling him to take his
mind off himself.

I myself, being healthy, have never been the victim of that form of
ministration. I have simply observed the effect of it on others. And
since there is no hope of converting the healthy from this habit, the
next best thing is to explain the obscure workings of the healthy mind.

Of course, no two healthy people are quite alike, and general statements
about any great composite type are dangerous. But no matter how
divergent their styles, all up-to-date, unspoiled, healthy persons can
be trusted to make certain stock remarks to or about the sick. The
context may vary, but sooner or later the following phrases will crop
up: "pulling yourself together"; "bracing up"; "standing a little real
hardship"; "forgetting all about your aches and pains"; "people who
never have _time_ to be sick"; "people who are worse off than you are";
and, "taking your mind off yourself."

At any one of these cheery phrases, the spirited sick man feels his
gorge begin to rise. He knows that if his gorge rises, so will his
temperature. With a mighty effort he swallows his temper, and his
temperature goes up anyway at the exertion. All this time he knows that
his visitor meant well, and he despises himself for his irritation. He
has no way of defending himself, for, if he should describe how ill he
really is, would not that convict him of having his mind on himself, of
craving sympathy, of "enjoying poor health"? Over and over the words of
his visitor go ringing in his ears--words intended tactfully to
stimulate recuperation. "It's fine to see you looking so well. All you
need to do now is to get something to take up your mind. I know how hard
it will be, for I have been there myself, but circumstances were such
that _I_ just _had_ to brace up. It would be the best thing in the world
for you if you only had to rough it a little."

Any one of these remarks is guaranteed to leave the person who is really
suffering in a very storm-beaten state of mind, unless by the luckiest
chance he understands two basic facts about the healthy: first, our
healthy imagination; second, our healthy ignorance.

The healthy imagination, in the first place, cannot bear to move in
circles. Any novelist knows that a story must progress. If the action is
dramatic, the final downfall or the final victory must follow swiftly
upon the heels of conflict. The attention wanders if the story goes
monotonously along in the style of "Another grasshopper came and brought
another grain of corn. And then another grasshopper came and brought
another grain of corn."

On the same principle, the general public gives intelligent
understanding to the great dangerous diseases where there is a grand
struggle of life and death, where the sufferer grows rapidly worse,
reaches the crisis, hangs for a moment between time and eternity, and
then either dies or gets well. Here is the stuff of contest, the essence
of Greek drama: pity and fear, unity of action, and dignity of conflict.
The imagination rises to it as to whirlwinds and the noise of
waterspouts. But when it comes to the good friend who neither dies nor
gets well, who begins to recover and succumbs again, travelling the
monotonous round of one ill after another, none of them fatal,--then the
healthy imagination stops following the circles.

It is time by every calculation that our friend recovered. We hope that
he will soon be well and strong. He hopes so, too, we admit
broad-mindedly. But most of us fall into generalities at this point. We
are not impatient _with_ our friend; we are impatient for him. A delayed
convalescence, we have heard, is usually the result of mismanagement
somewhere; the wrong doctor, perhaps, a family inclined to spoil by
kindness, or mind over matter imperfectly understood. Suppose our sick
friend could get away from his anxious relatives, and be suddenly cast
upon a desert island; would he not have to brace up and rattle down his
own cocoanuts with a will? We have known such cases--paralytics who got
thrown overboard and nimbly swam ashore, rescuing women and children on
their way. Our friend is not an extreme case like that, but, if he
actually had to get to work, would he not forget all about his troubles,
and suddenly find himself cured?

Once having put him into the class of needless suffering, we roll along
merrily to the moment when we decide that it is time for us to speak.
Let us speak tactfully, by all means. Let us auto-suggest as it were!
Let those of us who are amateurs do what we can in a quiet way.

At this point, the healthy do three things. We diagnose, we prescribe,
and we tell you to take your mind off yourself.

This is where the healthy ignorance comes in. When we are well, we think
of the mind as a convenient tool; in Huxley's words, "a cool, clear,
logic engine." We know that minor ailments of our own have vanished when
we have vigorously taken our mind off our symptoms and gone to the
movies. We are at our best, we know, when we have given our whole
attention to something absorbing, quite outside ourselves; business,
friendship, good works. We feel that our acquaintance will be the better
for this valuable thought. We do not know that every other healthy
person in town has also decided that it is time to pass on the same
idea. Neither do we realize that the ability to do as we suggest is the
sick person's idea of heaven.

Thinking thus masterfully of the mind, we speak glibly of doing things
with it. We do not know how slippery and complex a thing the mind is
when assailed by suffering. "Take off your mind." Take off your hat. We
do not know what long hours every invalid spends driving his mind along
on every pleasant topic under the sun, only to feel it skidding,
skidding, from side to side, just as you feel yourself steering for the
nearest tree when you begin to drive a car. And after all this effort,
what has he been doing but putting his mind on his mind? Less exhausting
to put it on the pain and be done with it. When we urge our friend not
to steer for the tree, we feel that we are presenting him with a new
idea.

Healthy ignorance, in the second place, assumes that the mind of a sick
person is more than normally susceptible to suggestion. We have heard
that, if you say to a patient, "How thin you are," he will instantly
feel thinner and thinner, will droop and wilt and brood morbidly upon
his state. Very well, then. We go to visit our friend resolved to make
no such unfortunate remark. We conceal our shock at the changed
appearance of our friend, but we cannot help thinking about it. Every
healthy person is a trifle taken aback when he sees anybody else laid
low. The neat white corners of the counterpane lend an awe-inspiring
geometrical effect; if the patient is a man, he looks subtly changed
without his high collar; if the patient is a lady, she is transformed
with her hair in braids. We know that we must not cry, "How changed you
are, Grandmother," lest we send the patient into a relapse. It is a poor
rule that will not work both ways. If a comment on frail appearance
would thus depress our friend, surely the contrary assurance ought to
chirk him up in proportion. We therefore say blithely, "Well, you
certainly do look fine!" Then later we perhaps repeat it, to make sure
that auto-suggestion has a chance to set in.

Now, personally, if somebody told me that I looked well, I feel that I
could manage to bear up. But in the sick-room, the remark seldom makes a
hit. Nine chances out of ten the patient does not understand the
healthy. He feels that we suspect him of rusticating in bed under false
pretences. He does not want to be ill, nor to look ill; but since he
_is_ ill, he would be sorry to have us think that he might as well be up
and about. He does not know that we adopt the cheery note to avoid the
fatal opposite, and to encourage him. He does not know how helpless we
are, nor how sure of the susceptibility of the stricken mind.

All these traits of the healthy imagination and the healthy ignorance
are magnified tenfold if the invalid's disorder is nervous. To the
untutored layman, a nervous disorder means an imaginary disorder. What
nervous wreck has not prayed to exchange his baffling torments for
something showy and spectacular, like broken bones or Spotted Fever? The
healthiest imagination can grasp a broken leg. The healthiest ignorance
can see that it should lie for a while in splints, and that we cannot
help our friend by urging him, however tactfully, to forget all about
his fracture and join us on a hike. But disordered nerves are different.
Everybody admits that. We feel instantly competent to prescribe. We have
read up on psychotherapy, in the magazines.

Having diagnosed the case, having prescribed remedies, we feel a trace
of impatience if our friend seems not quite cured.

In addition to our eager way of giving advice, we who are healthy have
also a way of confusing cause and effect. When our patient finally does
succeed in building up his vitality to the point where he can resume his
work, when we see him going busily about the world again taking his
share of hard knocks without flinching, then we say, "There! Didn't we
say he'd be better the minute he had something to do?" We know nothing
about the times when he hoped that he had recovered, attempted to take
up work again, and succumbed. We see only the triumphant emerging of his
renewed vitality. To us the cause is obvious, just what we had been
prescribing all along. When he was idle, he was ill. Now that he is
busy, he is well. Could anything be more logical? Therefore, when we
find him working hard at his old profession, we smile indulgently upon
him and we say, "That's right! It will do you good! _Now_ you have
something to take your mind off your--"

But I will not repeat it. Never in all my life shall I say that
beautiful and grammatical phrase again. There is probably a good deal in
it--how much, I, for one, have not the least idea. Probably there are
invalids in the world who would be completely cured if they could be
worried into hard work at all costs, "roughing it" with a vengeance. We
stray perilously near the fields contested by experts when we come to
that. The point is that the subject will always be a field for experts,
and that never in the long history of suffering was very much
accomplished by the well-meant exhortations of friends. As far back as
Old Testament days, friends came to see a patient man, and reasoned at
length with him. And he cried unto the Lord.

Nearly every invalid loves his friends. He cannot bear to have them
misunderstand him. And yet, if he only understands _them_--if he
understands the healthy as a class, with our healthy imaginations, our
healthy ignorance, our superstitions, and all our simple ways, the most
desolate Job in a friend-strewn world can afford to brandish his
potsherd and take cheer. He will know the explanation of our kindly
words, and their proper discount at the bank. And perhaps he may be able
finally, with a prodigious effort of his will, to take them off his
mind.



CARVING AT TABLE


Carving at table is one of the most virile things that a man can do, and
yet it usually has to be done according to feminine standards. It is a
primitive art overlaid with a complex technique, a pioneer act in a
dainty environment. For so masterful a deed with an edged tool, a man
should be allowed the space and freedom of the Maine woods. Environed by
the modern tablecloth, he must be not only masterful but cautious; not
so much fearless as adroit.

The process tests not only the man himself, but also his relations with
his wife. When a married couple feel equally responsible for an act at
which only one of them can officiate, they are tempted to exchange
remarks. The most tactful wife yields now and then to the impulse to do
a little coaching from the side-lines, and many husbands have been known
to reply with a few well-chosen words about the knife. They sometimes
carry on quite a little responsive service. This happens occasionally
even when the husband is an artist at his work. The ideals of two
artists will occasionally conflict. And even the model wife, who ignores
the carving and engages the guests in conversation until the worst is
over, will at times find herself clutching the tablecloth or holding her
breath at the critical points--when the drum-stick is being detached
from the second joint, for instance, or when the knife hovers over the
guest's portion of the steak. These two crises are the great moments for
the man who carves.

In fact, you have not taken the complete measure of a man until you have
seen him carve both steak and fowl. These two make totally different
demands upon the worker. The chicken calls for a sense of structure, a
versatile skill in manoeuvring for position, and the delicate wrist of
the violinist. But your true porterhouse calls for shrewd judgment and
clear-cut decisions, with no halfway measures or reconsiderations at
all. With the chicken, you can modify, slice, combine, arrange to best
advantage on the plate. With the steak, you work in the flat and in one
color; every stroke must count. There are men who would rather parcel
out the Balkans than map a steak.

Great artists in carving are of several classes: those who stand up to
their work and those who remain seated; those who talk and those who do
not. I recall one noble old aristocrat, with the eye of a connoisseur
and the suavity of an Italian grandee, who stood above the great turkey
that he had to carve and discoursed with us as follows, pronouncing
every word with the dramatic vigor that I try to indicate by the
spelling, and illustrating each remark with one deft motion of his
knife; this was his monologue: "Now, we cut off his Legg.... Now, we
take his Winng!... And now,--we _Slice_ him."

To my mind, this conversation is about the only sort in which the
successful carver can afford to indulge. The nervous amateur thinks it
necessary to keep up a run of wise comment on the topics of the day to
show that he is at ease; or perhaps he does it as the magician talks
when he puts the rabbits into his hat, to distract the spectators'
attention from his minor tactics. But he might as well learn that he
cannot distract us. The matter is too close to our hearts. It is natural
to watch the carving intently, not necessarily with an eye to our own
interests, but because for the moment the platter is the dramatic centre
of the group. Action, especially in an affair demanding skill,
irresistibly holds the eye. The well-bred guest chats along of one thing
and another, but his eye strays absently toward the roast.

This is very hard upon the newly married husband. Spectators add
immensely to his difficulties. Some years ago, one such bridegroom, now
an experienced host and patriarch, was about to carve a chicken for his
bride and her one guest. I was the guest, and at that time I held
theories about the married state. While we were setting the table, I had
mentioned a few of these, among them my belief that all little boys
should be taught the rudiments of carving, so that when married they
would know how to preside correctly at their own tables. My friend the
bride agreed with me, and supported my views by anecdotes from real
life. The anecdotes were about boys who had not been so trained.
Meanwhile the bridegroom listened intently from his post on the kitchen
table. Young women are likely to forget that young men have feelings,
especially if they have been trained by brothers who displayed none. We
therefore went on at great length. Carving, we said, was not an
instinct, but a craft.

As we sat at soup, the young husband became more and more uneasy, and
when the chicken made its appearance he leaned back with beads of
perspiration on his brow. "After all this," said he, "I hope nobody
expects me to carve that chicken. I'll just pass it around, and you
girls chip off what you like."

The central difficulty in carving, however, is found not so much in the
actual chipping as in the tactful distribution of choice parts. This
matter is complicated by the fact that unselfish people will lie about
their preferences, polite people will refuse to disclose them, and
critical people expect you to remember them. Even the expert carver,
therefore, looks with favor on those convenient meats that come
naturally in individual units--croquettes, cutlets, chops, sausages;
here the only difficulty is the choice between brown and not so brown,
large and small. There is only the mathematical matter of making the
food go around, and the man with the vaguest sense of proportion can
count chops and divide by the number of guests.

But when the company is large, and the platter of steak just adequate,
there really is cause for anxiety. Some carvers, under such
circumstances, begin cautiously, serving small helpings at first until
they are sure they are safe, and then becoming gradually more lavish.
Others begin recklessly, and have to retrench. A group of college
students once made a study of this matter with data and statistics that
would have adorned a doctor's degree. The object was to locate the seat
at any table of fourteen where one could count on the most even diet,
the golden mean between feast and famine, no matter which member of the
faculty chanced to carve. There were many variables to be considered:
some members of the faculty habitually carved with giant portions at
first, and then dwindled suddenly; others varied from day to day,
profiting at one meal by what they learned at the last. A few were
expert dividers by fourteen. The conclusion was reached after weeks of
minute toil. Like all great investigators, these students were prepared
to warrant their findings for all time. The best seat at a table of
fourteen--the one where you can count on the least fluctuation and the
largest security--in short, Whitman's Divine Average--is the fifth seat
from the professor, left. Things in that position run, barring
accidents, quite well. If caution was the slogan at the outset, the
plentiful supply on the platter has by that time begun to tell upon the
mind of the carver, and things are looking up. If the first helpings
were extravagant, there has still not been quite time to feel the real
pinch of want. Fifth seat from the professor, left.

Of course, fourteen is too large a number to divide by. When it comes to
long division, brain-fag is bound to set in. Since those days, I am
told, food in that college is sent in ready apportioned in advance.

We should miss something in our homes, however, if the art of carving
should decline. There is a certain symbolic grace in the fatherly act of
hewing away at a large roast, even if a man does not do it so very well.
It is true that a great many pleasant gentlemen do not feel quite at
home when dealing with a meat; they do not feel quite at their best.
They carve tentatively, parcelling it out at random. Until they come to
their own serving, they are vague. At that point, however, the most
helpless amateur takes on cheer. Watch him as he settles himself more
comfortably, draws up the platter at a better angle, and selects the
fragments of his choice. It is here that he does his best carving, not
consciously, not at all selfishly, but because he now feels sure. He has
something to go by. He knows what he wants.

After all, the task of carving at table is not an infallible test of
man. Some of the most uncertain carvers in the world are great and good
men, standing high in their professions and revered by a family who must
nevertheless shiver for the fate of the table-linen when the sirloin
steak comes on. But the fact remains that the man who can carve
equitably, neatly, and with discrimination has nearly always a balanced
brain and a reliable self-command. In an army test he would stand high.
He is your genuine "officer material." And he is very scarce.



THE FEELING OF IRRITATION


The feeling of irritation in its earliest form once overtook a little
girl whose mother had enforced a wholesome bit of discipline. In a great
state of wrath the little girl went to her room, got out a large sheet
of paper, and ruled it heavily down the middle. Then she headed one
column "People I Like," and crowded that half of the sheet with the
names of all her acquaintances. The other half of the page she headed
"People I Don't Like," and in that column listed one word only--"Mama."
This done, she locked the grim document in her safe-deposit box, and hid
the key.

That glowering deed was the very ritual of irritation. The feeling of
irritation is not merely one of heat; it is a tall wave of violent
dislike that goes mounting up our blood. When we have it, it feels
permanent. Our friend is not what we thought he was--our family is not
what it should be--our job is a failure--we have placed our affections
in the wrong quarter. When young politicians have this feeling, they
bolt the ticket; when young employees have it, they resign. The first
time when young married people have it, they think that love is dead. If
they have too much wealth and leisure, they fly apart and eventually get
a decree. But in households where the budget does not cover alimony,
they commonly stay together and see for themselves how the wave of wrath
goes down. The material inconveniences of resignations, abscondings,
law-suits, and the like have been a great safeguard in many a career.
Nothing in Barrie's plays is more subtle than the perfect moment when
the young couple decide to postpone separation until the laundry comes
home.

It is not necessary to be a "temperamental" person or a fire-eater of
any sort in order to know how it feels to be irritated--and irritating.
The gentlest folk are capable of both sensations. Any one who has seen a
lovely lady deliberately stir up strife in the bosom of a genial
story-teller, by correcting his facts for him and exposing his fictions,
will remember the tones of restrained choler with which the merry tale
progressed. Who has not remarked to a kind relative, "Well, if you know
so much about it, why don't you tell it yourself?"

There is no ratio or proportion at all between the cause of irritation
and the ensuing state of mind. In our moments of ferment we lose the
faculty of discrimination. We hardly ever refer our exasperation to the
trivial detail that brought it on. We feel that the detail is simply an
indication of the great flaws in the whole situation. We have a crow to
pluck, not only with our friend, but--to use the words of
Quiller-Couch--with everything that appertains to that potentate.

For example, suppose that we are at loggerheads with a fellow-member of
a public-welfare committee. He opposes a measure that we endorse. He
will not see reason. We therefore refer him to his class: he is a
typical politician, a single-track mind, a combination of Mugwump and
Boss Tweed. We ourselves, meanwhile, are a blend of Martin Luther, John
Huss, and the prophet Isaiah, with tongs from the altar.

Or perhaps we are irritated with a colleague on a teaching-staff after
the events of a varied day. Irrelevant matters have happened all the
morning in amazing succession: an itinerant janitor filling inkwells; an
inkwell turning turtle--blotters rushed to flood-sufferers; an
electrician with tall step-ladder and scaling-irons to repair the
electric clock; a fire-drill in examination period; one too many
revolutions of the pencil-sharpener; one too many patriotic "drives"
involving the care of public moneys kept in a candy-box. And now our
zealous academic friend calls an unexpected committee meeting to
tabulate the results of intelligence-tests.

We are in no mood for intelligence-tests. We object. He persists. We
take umbrage. He still calls the meeting. Then, up rears the wave of
dislike and irritation, not at the details that have brought us to our
crusty state--not dislike of ink and electricity and patriotism and
intelligence--but dislike of our friend and of the Art of Teaching that
he represents. The trouble with our friend, we decide, is his academic
environment. He is over-educated--attenuated; a Brahmin. Nobody in touch
with Real Life could be so thoroughly a mule and an opinionist. Better
get out of this ultra-civilized atmosphere before our own beautiful
catholicity of thought is cramped, crippled, like his. At these moments
we do not stop to remember that people are opinionated also on the
island of Yap.

Most frequently of all, we apply our dudgeon to the kind of community in
which we live. We are nettled at a bit of criticism that has reached our
ears. Instantly we say cutting things about the narrow ways of a small
community, with page-references to "Main Street" and the Five Towns. We
forget that our friends in great cities might be quite as chatty. Margot
Asquith lives and thrives in crowds.

We refer our irritation, also, to types. Any skirmish in a women's
organization is referred to women and their catty ways. Any Church or
Red Cross breeze is an example of the captious temper of the godly. All
friction between soldiers of different nations is a sign of Race
Antagonism; the French are not what we had inferred from Lafayette.

In short, the whole history and literature of dissension shows that
people have always tried to make their irritations prove something about
certain types, or situations, or nations, or communities. Whereas the
one thing that has been eternally proved is the fact that human beings
are irritable.

If we accept that fact as a normal thing, we find ourselves ready for
one more great truth. Violent irritation produced on small means is a
deeply human thing, a delicately unbalanced thing, something to reckon
with, and something from which we eventually recover on certain ancient
and well-recognized lines. When our feeling is at its height, we are
ready to throw away anything, smash anything, burn all bridges. Nothing
is too valuable to cast into the tall flame of our everlasting bonfire.
This sounds exaggerated. Emotion remembered in tranquillity is a pallid
thing, indeed. But it is hot enough at the time. The whole range of
sensation and emotion may be travelled in an hour, at a pace
incredible--a sort of round-trip survey of the soul.

The father of a large family sat in church at one end of a long pew. His
wife sat at the other end of the pew, with a row of sons, daughters, and
guests ranged in the space between. Near the close of the sermon one
morning, the father glanced down the line, gazed for a horrified moment
at his eldest daughter, Kate, got out his pencil, wrote a few words on a
scrap of paper, put the paper into his hat, and passed the hat down the
line. As the hat went from hand to hand, each member of the family
peered in, read the message, glanced at Kate, and began to shake as
inconspicuously as is ever possible in an open pew. Kate, absorbed in
the sermon, was startled by a nudge from her brother, who offered her
the hat, with note enclosed. She looked in and read, "Tell Kate that her
mouth is partly open."

Kate remembered that it must have been. The whole pew was quivering with
seven concentrated efforts at self-control.

Now, one would think that a moment like this would be jolly even for the
cause of laughter in others. But it was not. Kate knew that they had
been laughing before the note reached her, and she was hurt. If they
loved her as she loved them, they would not want to laugh. She set her
jaw like iron, and looked straight ahead. This started them all off
again. With the instinct of a well-trained elder sister, she knew that
if she wanted any peace she ought to turn and smile and nod cordially
all down the row, as at a reception. But it was too late for that. She
had taken the proud line, and she would follow it.

As her expression grew more austere, the boys grew more convulsed. Aloof
now, cut off from her kin entirely, she sat seething. Floods of scarlet
anger drowned the sermon's end. The closing hymn was given out, but she
declined the offered half of her brother's hymnal. "Tell Kate she can
open it now," telegraphed one of the boys as the congregation began to
sing. Here was Kate's chance to unbend and join the group and nod and
smile again, but she was too far gone. She received the message with
lifted eyebrows, and stood with cold pure profile averted until after
the benediction. Then she turned away from her reeling family, and
walked off in a white heat. Her anger was not at her father whose note
caused the stir. She had no resentment toward him at all. If one's mouth
is open, one would wish to be advised of the fact. Her feeling was the
mighty wrath of the person who has been laughed at before being told the
joke. Unwilling to face her family, she went up to take dinner at her
grandmother's house, that refuge for all broken hearts.

After dinner, Kate looked out of the window and saw her family coming up
the drive. They filed into the house and gathered in a group. "I think,"
said one of the boys, "that in the cause of friendship we owe Kate an
apology."

The grand manner of formal apology from one's relatives is the most
disarming thing in the world. Friendly conversation flowed back into the
normal at once. But it was years before it was quite safe for Kate to
rest her chin on her hand in church.

Very often our most genuine irritations appear unreasonable to our
friends. For instance, why should people object to being called by each
other's names? Two brilliant young lawyers once developed animosity
against each other because their names Stacey and Stanton were
constantly interchanged. Children suffer from this sort of thing
continually; grown people tend to confuse brothers and to call them by
one another's names promiscuously. We may love our brother tenderly, and
yet not like to be confounded with him. Even parents sometimes make
slips. The smallest boy in a lively family had a mother who used to call
the roll of all her children's names, absent-mindedly, before she hit
upon the right one. Consequently, the smallest boy learned to respond to
the names George, Alice, Christine, and Amos. But the thing had happened
to him once too often. One morning he came down to breakfast with a
large square of cardboard pinned to his bosom; and on the placard in
large letters was printed the word "Henry." Rather go through life with
a tag around his neck than be called Alice any more.

All these capricious facts about irritability rather explode the old
adage that it takes two to make a quarrel. If we are really on the
rampage, the other person may be a perfect pacifist and still call down
our ire. We can make the hot-foot excursion to the heights of madness,
for instance, when a friend with whom we are arguing whistles softly
away to himself while we talk. Even worse is the person who sings a gay
little aria after we are through. In the presence of such people, we
feel like the college girl who became annoyed with her room-mate, and,
reflecting prudently upon the inconveniences of open war, rushed out of
the room and down the stairs to relieve her feelings by slamming the
front door. She tore open the great door with violent hands, braced it
wide, and flung it together with all her might. But there was no crash.
It was the kind of door that shuts with an air-valve, and it closed
gradually, tranquilly, like velvet; a perfect lady of a door. People who
sing and hum and whistle softly to themselves while we rage, are like
that door.

Knowing that human beings are occasionally irritable, that they can
recover from their irritation, and that we can also recover from ours,
why is it that we ever hold resentment long? Some people, like
soap-stones, hold their heat longer than others; but the mildest of us,
even after we have quite cooled off, sometimes find ourselves warming up
intermittently at the mere memory of the fray. We are like the old lady
who said that she could forgive and forget, but she couldn't help
thinking about it. We love our friend as much as ever, but one or two of
the things he said to us do stay in mind. The dumb animals have an
immense advantage over us in this regard. They may be able to
communicate, but their language has presumably fewer descriptive
adjectives than ours. Words spoken in the height of irritation are
easily memorized. They have an epigrammatic swing, and a racy
Anglo-Saxon flavor all their own. Unless we are ready to discount them
entirely, they come into our minds in our pleasantest moods, checking
our impulses of affection, and stiffening our cordial ways.

On this account, the very proud and the very young sometimes let a
passing rancor estrange a friend. When we are young, and fresh from much
novel-reading, we are likely to think of love as a frail and perishable
treasure--something like a rare vase, delicate, and perfect as it
stands. One crash destroys it forever. But love that involves the years
is not a frail and finished crystal. It is a growing thing. It is not
even a simple growing thing, like a tree. A really durable friendship is
a varied homelike country full of growing things. We cannot destroy it
and throw it away. We can even have a crackling bonfire there without
burning up the world. Fire is dangerous, but not final.

Of course, it is in our power to let a single conflagration spoil all
our love, if we burn the field all over and sow it with salt, and refuse
to go there ever again. But after the fires have gone down on the waste
tract, the stars wheel over and the quiet moon comes out--and forever
afterwards we have to skirt hastily around that territory in our
thought. It is still there, the place that once was home.

Perhaps it is trifling and perverse to be harking back to nature and to
childhood for parables. But sometimes there is reassurance in the
simplest things. The real war-god in our own family was Geoffrey, and
Barbara was his prophet. Many a doughty battle they waged when they both
happened to be in the mood. Whenever Barbara wanted a little peace, she
used to take her dolls to the attic, saying to our mother as she went,
"K. G." This meant, "Keep Geoffrey." But one time Barbara was very ill.
Geoffrey was afraid that she was going to die, and showered her with
attentions assiduously. He even gathered flowers for her every day. The
trained nurse was much impressed. One afternoon, when the crisis was
passed, the nurse told Geoffrey that she thought that he was very sweet,
indeed, to his little sick sister. Geoffrey was squatting on the arm of
the sofa, watching Barbara with speculative eye. He considered this new
light on his character for a moment, and then remarked, "Well, you just
wait until she gets her strength."

We live in cantankerous days. Anybody who has enough energy to do
anything particular in the world has more or less difficulty in getting
on with people. Unless he chooses to take his dolls to the attic, he is
in for occasional criticisms, laughter, interruptions, and the
experience of being called by names that are not his own. The world
sends flowers to the dying, but not to people when they get their
strength. It is the very rare person, indeed, who goes through life with
nothing to ruffle him at all.

In moments of irritation at all this, we unconsciously divide the world
into two columns: people who agree with us and people who do not;
"People I Like," and "People I Don't Like." Instinctively we make the
lists, and file them away. If we could lay hands on the ghostly files of
twenty years and scan them through, we should find that the black-lists
were not a catalogue of permanent and bitter hatreds, but a sort of
Friendship Calendar. Many of our collisions, after all, were with the
people to whom we came most near.

Almost every one wants to be easy to get along with. Some of us find it
hard. In those discouraging moments when we have proved obnoxious to our
friends, we are inclined to feel that a policy of isolation would be the
most attractive thing in the world. But there are practical drawbacks
even to isolation.

A blizzard had once drifted all the streets of our town. Our mother,
with the true pioneering spirit, decided that she was going out. Our
father was urging her to wait until the streets were cleared.

"Now, Endicott," said our mother reasonably, "the snow-plough has been
down, and there's a path."

"But," persisted Father, "the wind has drifted it all in again." He
paused while she put on her hat, and then he added earnestly, "You don't
know how windy and drifted it really is. I just saw Mrs. Muldoon coming
down the street, and she was going along single file, and making hard
work of it too."

The family was immensely taken with the picture of Mrs. Muldoon's ample
figure going downtown in single-file formation; but, in spite of the
jeers of his audience, our father still insisted that Mrs. Muldoon _was_
going single file, and that she _was_ making hard work of it at that.

Now and then there is an extreme individualist who yearns to go through
life absolutely unmolested, single file. He is impatient of collisions,
and collisions certainly do occur through one's proximity to one's kind.
But even the most arrant individualist can hardly go single file all by
himself--not without making hard work of it, at least. And even if such
a thing were possible it would not be a natural or kindly way of life.
Our hardy race has always valued the strength that comes from contacts
of every sort and kind. We therefore keep up the hearty old custom of
going through life in groups of families and associates and
friends--even though, inadvertently, we sometimes do collide.


THE END



  The Riverside Press
  CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS
  U. S. A.



  [ Transcriber's Note:

    The following is a list of corrections made to the original.
    The first line is the original line, the second the corrected one.

  precipitatly. The marshal, seeing this prompt obedience to his request,
  precipitately. The marshal, seeing this prompt obedience to his request,

  ]





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