Everything is Possible to Will
Chapter VII. What is is Wrong
Chapter VII. What is is Wrong.
“Unto us a son is given” has carried joy to myriad households since angels heralded the lowly birth of the Divine Man; and each bud of promise is a fresh throb of love from the Great Father's heart. Softly folded in viewless wings the given and the taken are ever ascending and descending Jacob's ladder.47 The taken bear upwards love's heavy-laden sighs, which return in heart's-ease to those who yearn for the pet lamb and its merry gambols; the given bring down from above stray notes of the never-ending song of peace and goodwill.
Looking forward with absorbing interest to the advent of the little stranger, a softened radiance lit up the young mother's face, as giving fond welcome to her jewel from the spirit-land, Zee sunned herself in the newly opened sanctuary of purest bliss. How much of weal or woe, by her moulding the wee thing might one day express! The possible good made her happy; the possible ill made her tremble. Will Wrax be God or devil to his boy? A strange question to ask of one who, given his bride scarcely twelve months before, had vowed for her sake to do and dare all that became a man.
Zee augured hopefully from the father's pride in the new toy. Yes, the boy will prove his good angel, beckoning him away from the fellowship of those who have but too successfully estranged him from home, to which home the child will give fresh interest, as winding himself into and filling the father's heart, he will be constrained to wear the responsibilities of paternity bravely. What sacrifices will he not make, but that page 68 love owns no sacrifice. He will be the richer, the happier, for his every act of self-forgetfulness.
Heir to all but his father's infirmities, Rex, being the first of the third generation on the mother's side, was hailed enthusiastically by a swarm of very youthful aunts and uncles. The eyes of one small aunt were flooded on finding that her nephew had arrived before she had “quite finished his pretty shoes.” But she was consoled by Wrax's saying: “Well, I don't think he'll run before they're done, if you make haste and finish them.” Away she flew on the wings of the wind, to spread the glad tidings and finish the shoes.
Despite Zee's professed indifference to good looks in men, when her own boy was under criticism, the “crow” vanity was not a little gratified to find that Rex was voted a “second edition of Wrax.” One aunt exclaimed, “Why, he has features!” The more perfect the boy, the better fitted for his task; for the little rogue had his work to do from the moment he saw the light. Saw the light, indeed! he slept his time away, nor allowed his mother to see the color of his eyes.
Wrax had of late so far humored his wife as to have his books brought home of an evening when he had “writing to do;” and their boy was but a few days old when, kissing Zee “Good-night,” Wrax said: “I shall sit late writing, but I shall want nothing, so all can go to bed;” and he thereupon made a needless parade of locking up the house. The diligent scribe had, in truth, locked and unlocked the street-door and taken himself off to drink the health of wife and child with his roystering companions, which could probably be done with more unrestrained convivality in the bar-parlor than at home.
Every young mother who values her husband's sympathy will understand how cruelly mean the double lie appeared to Zee. But for his having extinguished the gas, thereby necessitating nurse's return to Zee's room for a light, on finding that something wanted during the night had been forgotten, Zee would never have known of his having decamped. The skeleton again in all its grimness! And that she page 69 might watch for his home-coming, the silly child requested that the door of her room might be left open. Not until the small hours of the morning did she hear the chink of his latch-key. He then lit his candle, and crept noiselessly up the carpeted stairs, but extinguished his light on finding his wife's bed-room door open, which he passed with averted face. Zee made no sigh, lest she should betray him to nurse; but he pleaded guilty next morning in spite of himself as his eyes fell before Zee's appealing glance.
No wonder that the doctor, ignorant of the weary vigil the anxious wife had kept the livelong night, found her feverish and ill, worse instead of better that day, and puzzled over the cause. Wrax, however, was on his best behavior for a while, and one ray of hope, then as always, lifted Zee out of cloudland. She could not nurse the dolefuls; she forgot herself ere she was aware. But as her strength returned, his pleasant home became irksome to the truant-hearted man, whose French leave of absence was again sheltered by the old plea of “business.” His good resolutions were but as tinder, ignited by a single vicious thought; and, great as were her resources, Zee sorrowfully realised that she was powerless to help him. She possessed no new galaxy of appreciable arts wherewith to wean him from looking over the home-line for what was still beyond his reach.
While yet Rex's age was counted by weeks, his father bought, and furnished in excellent keeping with the house, a handsome property, to which they at once removed. But to Zee, notwithstanding her appreciation of material comforts, all was hollow and unsound—a fine house without a head—a head and no head. Still, of course, everything was outwardly inviting. A decorous top-dressing concealed unsightly weeds, since no one knew better than did Wrax the value of a nicely-balanced conformity to popular prejudices re chapel-going and suchlike—conformity in harmony with his way of looking at things—a canting way without doubt, the cant of the beer-barrel.
And, paradoxical though it appear, it was at once the depth and shallowness of Wrax's nature that created page 70 the want in him of which Zee was so painfully conscious, yet unable to define. Nor has this want been invented to suit the narrative, which simply strings facts together regardless of seeming inconsistencies. To the reflective mind one thing must tally with another, because absolutely true—unless, indeed, the writer blunders in her mode of truth-telling.
Denied a liberal education, the greatest of all wrongs, the majority of women are incapable of putting their thoughts in such logical sequence as shall command the public ear. Trained by repression, however, woman is slowly beginning to realise her power to manufacture public opinion by direct appeals to her own sex, to whom facts are more potent than reasoning drawn out to infinitude. And if pioneer work be precious in proportion to the difficulties surmounted, this simple story, pioneer in its unvarnished truthfulness, must have its merits, for its labor has been prodigious. It is written by the unlearned for the unlearned, especially women and girls, to raise them in their own estimation, by proving that notwithstanding they have failed to reach the high standard of goodness possible to them even in their ignorance, that every difficulty vanishes, nevertheless, before the resolutely disciplined will. And though asking much of men, the writer expects nothing from this appeal except to set women thinking.
A member of the House of Commons some years since declared it to be his conviction that “women endured much needless domestic tyranny in private life, but that no efficient help could be afforded them until they themselves made their wrongs known and asked for redress,” both of which objects, in addition to that above, this book in some small measure aims at.
And in showing something of the woes four walls hide, lifting life's heavy curtain higher than is wont, it is hoped that the present narrative will possess a throb of spring-tide vitality that will constrain the reader to exclaim; “This verily is life!” It were a weakness to draw upon the imagination, to open successive chambers of horror, now that much more than mere surface excitement is aimed at For, unhappily, page 71 to deeds of blood the public mind has already become so callous by familiarity that society's stopgaps, selfishly happy women even, like to have their ears tickled with a feeling half pleasure half pain, as they listen indolently to what they are pleased to call “frightfully exaggerated pictures of low life.” A stab from such women for “raking up disagreeables,” is the highest possible compliment. But one falls back falteringly before the outraged sensitiveness of the wife, who has trodden a like thorny road to that which Zee is treading; the wife whose love does but refine her own soul, as jealously guarding her secret from the world's rude prying and herself from its ruder pity, she clings convulsively to the lauded potentiality of silent suffering, and is thus saved from the hopelessness of despair.
Silent suffering! what recks the drunkard of it? it is but wood, hay and stubble in his path; of value only as, by playing into his hands, it screens him from observation, and helps him to trample out the life of his victim by slow degrees, than whom no other beast of burden whom he dare to maltreat is so completely under his thumb as the wife he has sworn to “love and cherish,” whose forbearance (patronising tenderness from a slave-wife, think of it!) provokes his intensest hate and scorn. A man in his cups48 is “possessed,” and his all but irresponsible power goads him to madness, as much as does the senseless endurance of his wife.
And the now slumbering but deep emotion of which good men are capable must be aroused by a pen dipped in warm blood—the very life-blood of suffering humanity—blood which shall drop like molten lead on the great universal heart of the nation, and burn with an intensity that refuses to heal, until the best energies of man and woman jointly are spent, all spent, in rending the very roots of the giant vices which are at once our boast and bane.
To tell woman “to do well the work that lies to her hand before she seeks an enlarged field of action” is to propose to her an impossible task; besides which, the women who demand legal freedom, full and unconditional, page 72 for their sex, are just the most capable women, in every respect, who will bear favorable comparison with any duty-loving man, and demand legal freedom, because they are at present crippled in their duty to their kind, especially to their children, for whose sake truth and justice must be exalted high above all compeers, that the line of demarcation between right and wrong may be clearly defined. Children are quick to see that might means right in the domestic economy; that the mother is a slave, and the mannishness of the father repeating itself in the little four-year-old, he will be found snubbing his mother with an insufferable audacity, encouraged too often by the father.
Seeking, as this story does, primarily to prove that woman cannot “do well the work that lies to her hand” in her present ignorance and degraded position, it attempts likewise to work out the meaning of vicarious suffering, which is substitutionary only in the high and holy sense of rendering suffering superfluous, when its lessons of wisdom and strength are practically appropriated. This is the fact of facts that needs to be emphasised with Calvary's awful emphasis.
And if life were read aright, it would teach that woman, by virtue of her more delicate organism, is nearer to the heart of things than man can ever be; and that the burden of suffering has been laid upon her that her delicate intuitive perceptions, healthfully developed, may work out the divine plan of the moral universe. The true woman's sympathies are wholly on the side of right, and if man and woman were one with the divine idea of oneness, every good man would be ten times the man he is, to defy the powers of darkness, to champion the cause of truth. But, instead of being helpful to each other, each sex is a standing problem to the other, and virtually as wide apart as are the poles; with an estrangement painful to contemplate. Furthermore, man never will work with woman appreciatively, until she is free as he himself is free; for so long as the law declares her nonentity men will profess to believe in her incompotency, page 73 despite their individual experience to the contrary, and, despising her co-operation, will continue to believe that, in her present undeveloped condition, she has reached the zenith of her powers and will remain what she is if educated as man is educated. A gratuitous insult! In the best and deepest humiliation possible to man, he has yet to learn that God knew what he was about when he gave woman, his most perfect work (a God-like compliment to both sexes), to man as “helpmeet.”49 A help “meet” for all the walks of life, social, commercial, political, and religious; “meet” with an infinite sense of meetness as wide as man's being. But, thinking he knew better than God, man doomed woman to ignorance and, shutting her within doors, became to all intents and purposes his own and woman's betrayer—not her protector, as God intended. To be one with man, it is by no means necessary that woman Should be ever at his side; the home is unquestionably her sphere; but a liberal education for woman would dignify the home as much as the mart; being much more necessary to woman, indeed, than to man if she is to be “helpmeet” in any worthy sense, since she forms the youthful mind, or it goes unformed, as a rule.
In vain men seek to resist the inevitable. The emancipation of woman, full and unconditional, must come, for the sake of all the liberties involved therein. It is the greatest cause now pending in the world; and conventionalism never cursed the world with a deeper curse than when it made the woman question unpopular. Human decrees that contravene the laws of God (men and women are equal in his sight) must yield when the two are brought into conflict. God will never do for man what man ought to do for himself. God has made woman's cause man's care, and he shirks it at his peril; man and woman shall rise or fall together; their interests are identical, not antagonistic. And to teach man that he can and must control the animal passions, and to so raise woman in her own esteem that she shall refuse to sacrifice herself to man's lusts, it is imperative that both sexes shall stand on an equally free social, and above all moral, platform.page 74
All wrong, then, legal and otherwise, must meet the full blaze of day. And since the drink skeleton too is in almost every home, either in its first, second, or third degree of loathsomeness, but little should need to be written to enlist the sympathies of the good on behalf of helpless women and children; for even the vilest of women are cruelly punished in becoming the property of drunken husbands. And cruelly oppressive as is woman's legal thraldom, it is the wrong she sees, not the wrong she suffers, that wrings the womanly heart. It is the bad man's abuse of all law of which she complains; and it would subvert society but that the majority of women are governed by an innate love of right doing. Hence the reason that the bad man's vicious propensities are not more flagrant.
Sex, not mind, has ruled hitherto with deplorable results, as legalised infamy too clearly proves, the Contagious Diseases Acts among the rest. But once realise the every-day-beeoming-clearer fact that the religion of Christ means character, not creed, men will catch an enthusiasm for personal improvement. The Christianity of creeds has signally failed; the Christianity of character has now to be tried; men will not quarrel with real goodness, when they see it embodied in living forms. Perfect as God is perfect is Christ's ultimate of human nature: he was the most perfect gentleman that ever lived: all that he was we can become. He says so, that is enough.
The only royal road to the formation of character is to persistently live down every selfish thought of self, both in one's self and in others; and to do this successfully becomes quite a revelation, a new heaven and a new earth are opened to the mind's vision, and our now degraded human nature develops marvellously in all its God-like attributes. Think how devillike are pride, vanity, conceit, covetousness, an un-governed temper, etc.
Heart-culture, then, is precious above all price; but to it, preferring the inanity of mental indolence to the energising might of self-conquest, Zee proved traitor when she resolved to become like other people. Notwithstanding that her soul was in a chronic state of page 75 revolt against her practice, the too popular peace-at-any-price domestic creed she adopted under inward protest, made her life one long base lie. She must steep her soul in sin to conceal the sins of her husband, and eat her words, lest she wound the vanity and self-love of the man whom she, in her ignorance, promised to “love, honor, and obey,” yet found it impossible to do any. Oh, false theology, to exact such a pledge! It is said that “All women are hypocrites” (are all men true?); it is well for the wife's peace of mind, though her honor is sacrificed, if her hypocrisy occasion her no scruples of conscience.
Passing an evening with Zee in her home, friends and relatives must have remarked that Wrax was conspicuous only by his absence; but never a tear rested on Zee's cheek, when witnesses were by, to tell to what unseasonable hours his “business” occupied him. Her naturally high spirits, though often forced, made it comparatively easy to cast a rosy glow around. Rarely did even Wrax surprise in her the sign of grief; he resented her kindliest remonstrances, was angered at a word, declaring she “wanted to drive him from his home altogether.” Hence, a whining voice would have been to him a sufficient excuse for deserting her entirely.
In her deepest misery, stifling a tumult of angry passions, rather than mope over her woes, she has choked back fast rising tears, and hastily donning bonnet and cloak, bolted out into the green fields. In the birds, the trees, the flowers, the breeze, there was life, sweet life for Zee; but, oh! how unlike the “life” Wrax coveted! Ignorant of the necessity of driving away hard thoughts, in order to return to her home with a glad heart and free, a sister-in-law, habitually heedless in her remarks, twitted Zee—who was never so burdened by family cares as to neglect aught by such outings—with being “always out.”
However, through it all, that boy of hers was a constant diversion, making up for much that was wanting in his father. The mite talked and crowed, cut his first teeth and his last in princely order; indeed, all the ills of babydom gave him a friendly nod and page 76 passed on; and Zee, by frequent walks with him and his nurse, kept her health up to the mark, so that a bad heart-ache on Wrax's account failed to make her its prey.
Comporting himself as if made for state occasions, the toddling nonsuch was exhibited for an hour at the double wedding of Sadai and Iva, the sisters being led to the altar at the same hour from the old home. They were too proud of their right-hand supporters to desire to hide away, and get the disagreeable affair over, so made gala-day of the interesting occasion for Mr. and Mrs. John Bull and small fry, “Queen's weather” with its broadest smiles gracing the scene. And, in due season, Sadai had the gratification of presenting her first-born to the gentleman who had doomed her to celibacy. But apple and orange bloom fade away with the brides, who are therefore dismissed with old shoes and good wishes.
As of old, the sisters' path is still strewn with roses; Zee's with sharp flints, and in going over the ground with her the reader's patience will be taxed, unless, entering of his own accord into the nature of the vice to which she is wedded, he can understand what it must have been to have lived her life. For love's dear sake, for the sake of the preventible misery which curses the world through drink, go every inch of the road with her. Tread with gentle footstep as the door is opened on the inner life of the neglected wife. Go, sit by the girl, place your cool hand on her fevered brow, feel the throb of her heart as the hurried life-blood courses through her veins; but, dumb in the fulness of soul-moving sympathy, utter never a word.
Yet suffer as she may, Zee is so entirely Zee at all points of the compass, that in her are seen the life, not death-throes, of a soul wrestling valiantly, however impotently, with threatening ills; low in the dust she lies awhile, but never wallows in it. One with her husband in his degradation, though an utter stranger to his joys, how could she pick her way, or take heed thereto, when it led through sin's giddy mazes and darkness? Oh! it was hard for the girl to have to page 77 wade knee-deep in moral pitch with him on whose arm she hoped to lean trustingly, as they became daily nearer and dearer to each other. Still strong in a sheltering, though mistaken, love, she goes down with him to ward off what of evil she may—a steady prop in his unsteady path, ready on the instant to lead him out of it if there be but a willing mind.
47 An allusion to Genesis 28:12. "Jacob’s Ladder" is the name for the connection between Earth and Heaven that the biblical Jacob dreams about during his flight from his brother Esau.
48 To be drunk. To be ‘in one’s cups’ meant to be either drinking during a drinking-bout, or to be in a state of intoxication.
49 A helpmate or appropriate helper, usually applied to a wife or husband (a compound formed by taking the two words help meet in Gen.ii 18:20 as one word).