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Everything is Possible to Will

Chapter XI. “Hardy Nerves.”

page 126

Chapter XI. “Hardy Nerves.”

Possessing the spirit of ten women, Zee lived a strangely joyous inner-life, notwithstanding there was rather much of grit in her daily bread. By a subtle intuitive alchemy all her own, she extracted honey from thorns as well as from flowers. When true to herself, hers was no powder-and-point-at-the-jam kind of faith, which proclaims the brightness of earth to be a delusion, and heaven—the jam—to be quite out of reach. Her soul thrived by appropriating to itself just what it most needed: pity her needs were so small. Her very sportiveness was the effervescence of a living faith, which burned with a clear, almost unwavering light, deep down out of sight—light the clearer and the dearer for her sorrow. Not for a mess of pottage could she sell her birthright to the skies.

Rich within one is rich before all the world; neither thorny pillow nor flinty rock can silence the music of the heart—it just lives there. The present life is so sweet, so real, that all its paths, rightly trodden, are paved with gold—gold which sends Fortunatus' purse70 to the ceiling like a feather as compared with more enduring riches. Verily, gladness of heart is a helpful fairy; making a virtue of necessity, it converts the home of sadness into a palace, it would not exchange for Victoria's own with its responsibilities; it unravels life's tangled web, unsews the puckered seam of destiny, oils all the joints of the harness, so that the wheels of duty run smoothly save for occasional breaks. It environs its possessor with a gallery of living pictures, draped in rainbow-tinted magnificence, as he flits at will over the known world, laying claim page 127 to as much of its broad surface and star-spangled heavens as can any millionaire. Memory's eylet-holes are filled in with choicest fancy-work.

Can the reader be tempted to loiter one little hour with Zee and the boys? Rex was growing useful; and Piri, though long “a careful comfort,” had become a sturdy little four-year-old, full of roguish sayings and doings. He one day ran gleefully to his mother, exhibiting a three-cornered rent in his coat, saying: “I took up a piece of tin, and it boke my fock.” A clever exploit somehow; he was clearly innocent of any intention of breaking his frock, and while discriminating between mischief wilful and accidental, it is well that children should learn the lessons the latter convey.

Just as he looked for himself behind the glass, so did he look behind the picture for the embodiment of what his mother saw in it, to whom, with everything in the form of a picture, he would run with: “Read me this, mamma.” One picture, in which a dog was making off with an old man's dinner, fired Piri's indignation; and fully believing he was doing the old man service, he clapped his hands down on the dog, and looking excitedly in his mother's face, cried: “Now the poor old man will catch him (the dog); won't he, mamma?”

On one memorable occasion, he ran to Zee, with the tears rolling down his cheeks, and wringing his hands frantically, screamed: “My Rex is over the cliff—my Rex is over the cliff,” and, sobbing wildly, the child flew back whence he came. Following him, sick with apprehension, Zee signed to a neighbor that she needed his assistance. The distance was but short; and there, indeed, was Rex over the cliff, his head and and hands alone visible, as he clutched and hung by the tough twigs above him—to let go was certain death, and his white despairing face showed he was faint from extreme tension. A gleam of hope flushed his cheek when he saw his mother, whose heartache choked her for an instant; but rallying, she encouraged him to hold on, without hinting at danger lest he should become appalled by looking beneath page 128 him. Obtaining a rope, in which he made a running-noose, the kind neighbor succeeded at length in throwing it over Rex's head; and into the noose he slipped, first one arm, then the other (awful moments those of adjusting the rope!); then trusting to those who held it, the lad scrambled back to the world he had well nigh left for ever, and Zee caught him in her arms, dead yet alive again.

Full of bounding life, the strong young colt, preferring the risk of a breakneck scamper to the grassy mead's enclosure, was over the cliff before he well knew where he was. Seeing his danger, Piri was beside himself, and it was some seconds before he could be made to understand that his brother would be killed unless he, Piri, ran to tell his mother of Rex's danger. Then the poor child ceased jumping about, and flew to Zee as has been seen. Proposing to take Wrax to the spot, to show him how imminent had been the lad's peril, Zee met only an impatient rebuff in: “What's the use? I don't want to see the place.”

Piri knew no personal fear, nor did any domestic animal know fear of him; he could be often seen with a pet chicken tucked under his arm. “Jack,” an odd man of Wrax's, was ordered to kill a pet duck, over whose fate Rex wept bitterly, refusing to taste it when served at table; Piri, on the contrary, treated its death as a matter of course. Having decapitated the duck, “Jack” asked: “Shall I cut your head off, Piri?” “If you like,” replied young fearless. Whereupon Jack made a parade of sharpening the knife, which he flourished in a blood-thirsty manner, as if it were fun to behead little boys; then showing Piri the sharp edge of the knife, Jack took him in his arms as if to operate upon him. Holding him over the spot where the duck's blood had been newly spilled, not a muscle of the child's face moved, not a sound escaped him till Jack demanded: “Are you ready?” “Yes,” returned Piri. Jack then set him on his feet, saying: “Well, I'm blest! that beats all!”

Moved with the multitude by a common sorrow for the loss of many brave men who went down in the page 129 ill-fated “Orpheus,” wrecked on the Manukan bar, the 7th February, 1863,71 Zee took her boys to the funeral of the commodore of the “Orpheus,” whose remains being recovered, were buried with military honors, of course.72 Observing volley after volley fired into the air, Piri was frightened and, stopping both his ears, he begged to be taken home, and asked: “Why did the soldiers want to shoot God?”

At another time, having listened to the, at his own request, oft-told story of his brother's death, for whom he yearned with a strange yearning, Piri exclaimed: “It was not kind of God to take away my little brother; I'll make a stair up to heaven and bring him down.” “How could he be my brother if he died before I was born?” and “How shall I know him to be my brother when I die and go to heaven?” were questions over which he pondered long and anxiously, wishing often, under a sense of weariness and love of change, to “die and go to heaven.” It was he who paid Zee the neatest of compliments, by asking with a troubled brow: “Mamma, are your eyes new ones?” Eyes preternaturally bright with over-much weeping, possibly. Ah! of him a thousand bright flashes of thought might be told, proving his brain to have been sufficiently active.

Zee loved her boys too well to pet and spoil them, but she entered on a left-handed, because unaided, task in training them, not by so much as a word of counsel would Wrax assist therein; but if the chicks ran foul of his gouty toes they knew it, soon learning to take their cue from his smile or frown and act accordingly. Hiding his sins from his children as far as possible, their mother exacted of them child-like reverence for their father, for whom the very excuses she made, though she knew it not, were his severest condemnation. Goodness is its own defence, but wrong-doing needs a thousand meretricious props, not one of which ought to be afforded. Wrax's acts of familiarity were so rare that the boys were delighted when he deigned to romp with them; but he was invariably “three sheets in the wind”73 at such times and so violent in his play that it usually ended in one or page 130 both of the boys being hurt; she was therefore thankful when he just left them alone.

Possessing no clearly-defined principles of action for her own guidance, Zee was painfully conscious of her inability to guide another. Watching the nesting-bird feathering its nest, as it skilfully interweaved tiny bits of moss and down, and anon taught its fledglings to soar, she felt that for its work the bird possessed a more fitting intelligence than she did for hers.

Notwithstanding her time-serving, to be rather than to seem was the one law of Zee's nature; she could therefore but reproduce herself in her children. Happily she had good stuff to deal with; there was no “total depravity” in the lads, though each was blessed with a strong will, the training of which was their work, not hers. God having fashioned each child for its own independent walk in life as perfectly as the rarest flower he ever formed, the child must learn to stand alone mentally, from the instant an answering smile irradiates the countenance. Zee began her training in the cradle, into which Rex was placed after his morning and evening bath; and if he chose to cry, he had to cry himself to sleep, soon learning that he gained nothing by crying. The younger boys were too delicate for such treatment.

The teacher and the taught developed together, since Zee could take but one step at a time, conscientiously giving of her best, and taking freely of theirs in return. True happiness springs from within; she must, therefore, above all things make them a law to themselves—sufficient in themselves for all their needs, in order to guard them against the abnormal craving for excitement their father manifested. If they were refractory, her severest punishment was to require the delinquent to undress and go to bed for a shorter or longer period; the rest was beneficial, and time and silence worked wonders. Besides being sent to bed, Rex on one occasion was threatened with some farther punishment in the morning; but Zee's unwonted severity wronged his sense of justice, and looking sorrowfully into his mother's face, he said: “Why, mamma, will you punish me to-night and in page 131 the morning too?” Zee saw she had made a mistake, and told him so; she was conscious of no loss of dignity in confessing an error of judgment to her boy.

Repression is as needless as hurtful to the child who has learnt from the cradle that he is only a unit, a little bit of a great whole; and that he may know himself well enough to reverence the nature given him, the parent must dive to the depth of the child's being, by a healthy introspection which proves the reasonableness of so educating the tender conscience and strengthening childlike truthfulness, that he may be able to choose between good and evil. Only by reverencing the God in human nature can such a loving appreciation of the God-like be instilled as shall enable the child to realise that his is not a foreign yoke, that “the way he should go” is a beautiful “way,” given to himself alone to tread. And if the child who is guided by the love that casteth out fear be less of a prig than the child constrained to a blind obedience, he will make a truer man, because in being thrown on his own dignity and self-respect, self-control will grow with his growth unconsciously. It is vain to bind the body to rules if the will is truant.

The ways of a household are wonderfully simplified if yea means yea, and nay means nay; children must be able to respect their parents' word if they are to respect their own. Faith in the rod marks an incompetent teacher; all correction possessing a reforming tendency must appeal to the conscience of a reasonable and responsible being: the mere thought of a big man or woman beating a poor little child is in itself brutalising. Oh, think of the good stuff running to waste in the girls and boys on all sides, because character and how to form it is less studied and understood than is the rearing of pigs and plants. And of this lamentable ignorance the secret is that the teacher must be brave ere he can inspire courage, must be gentle ere he can instil courtesy, must be truth-loving and truth-living ere he can make absolute truthfulness attractive; in fact, what the teacher is is of more importance than what he can impart.

Christ is the ideal of all that is nobly brave, gently page 132 considerate, and true with a directness that carries conviction to the core of falsehood; but few men love the ideal half as well as they love the miserable little ill-tempered self that is ever dragging them down into the mire of the debasing selfishness which so curses human life, that it were more fitting to put on “weeds” for the living than the dead, so dead are the many to everything worth living for.

Truth, like its Author, is unchangeable, but different aspects of truth need to be presented to men in their progressive stages of intelligence. In the boorish age the club and hard words were the only arguments used; it then perhaps became necessary to make a sensitive regard for the feelings of others the be all and end all of existence; and this has been done so successfully that men and women have become a mere bundle of “feelings” without a vestige of backbone. “Feelings” have been elevated into a God, and the most unprincipled of men defer to this vice of “feelings” with speech soft and smooth to nausea, until honest utterances are dubbed “impertinence,” “dogmatism,” etc. Seeing what men and women have become through the undue prominence given to “feelings,” if Professor Huxley has based his plea for “hardy nerves” on the fact that true manliness is godliness, he has struck the keynote of the truest, most divine gospel preached since Christ was upon earth.

Take another look at the divine ideal, and you will find that the infinite repose Christ's character affords is its transparent truthfulness, based on the truest, most reforming love. Penetrating to the inner and outer vices of character and of life he could not, would not speak less kindly of a person than to that person; and such is the truth the world needs—a seventh heaven almost known on earth. Reflect on the probing directness of his criticism of the woman of Samaria, for instance, and judge of the cost to oneself of a similar faithfulness in dealing with known open sins when “feelings” only are left to work upon. Real goodness is an oppressive force intolerable to hypocrisy; truth and falsehood are necessarily antagonistic; Christ's very separateness from sinners was his con- page 133 damnation. He knew bitter herbs to be excellent medicine; and even while he sorrowed to think that his words must provoke fierce hostility, he yet left them to rankle in men's hearts until all things, ever so little askew, looked ugly. Love requires the scalpel to do its work, to rip open plausibility's cloak, that all wrong may stand revealed. To the penitent only does the knife become a blossoming almond-rod dripping with myrrh.

Not for the kind things he said and did, not as a “soothsayer” was Christ crucified; no, but because he was a “troubler” of the people—the people who “gnashed upon him with their teeth” because his scathing personalities made them keenly realise that they were the “hypocrites,” “vipers,” “whited walls,” etc., he said they were. No wonder his brethren hated him; his every word and deed, his very presence, were a reproach to them. The religion of Jesus quickens our sensibilities, intensifies our very humanity, and we never approach Christ's characteristic mode of putting truth needing severity until we, too, make bad men and women “gnash upon us with their teeth.” But to do this successfully, we must be divinely good in a higher sense than obtains. But sad to say, “feelings” demanding the tenderest consideration, have been deferred to, until professional etiquette has so frowned down personalities that the most forcible truths, the matchless sermon on the mount and similar, preached as generalities, fail to move men. It is the intrepid, reforming spirit that kindles love and hate. And if Christ were now upon earth, he would be found “in the midst” of our many political, commercial, and religious “dens of thieves,” and “dens” of legalised infamy, making black arts look so black that bad men who exalt the passions would, if it were possible, crucify him ten thousand times over. And had woman been trained to put her thoughts before men, it would be to her anguish unbearable to know that her pure, innocent children must be born into and be corrupted by, a world full almost of preventible sin and misery, yet that professional eti- page 134 quette, notwithstanding Christ's example to the contrary, required her so to refine away the truth, as to leave nothing but what men like to hear, however ill it might fare with the truth.

It is far more important to develop the child's moral than intellectual nature; the latter unfolds naturally by the endless questionings life supplies, as food to the mind. But teach him to live down self, to think out his true life, with reverent concern for each being and all things connected therewith; then send him into the world where vice rides rampant, and men everywhere strive to secure the goodwill, not the good, of their fellows; and what will the pure young mind think of the consistency of those who profess Christianity?

On one subject Zee's strong will ruled to some purpose; Wrax failed to provide properly for the children he had; she therefore wisely determined there should be no more of their children for other people to keep. So long as the world required to be populated, it was perhaps well to teach that fate ruled in the matter of families; but now that population runs riot, the animal passions must be kept well under control, and parents must limit their families to the number of children to whom they can do full justice. Believing, under protest, that she was fated to have as many children as God sent, Zee's mother, a delicate woman, was subjected to a slow martyrdom of twenty years. An amount of mock modesty highly reprehensible hangs about the population question, but it will disappear when the question is fairly met: To how many children can I do full justice?

The population question having once come up for discussion, it will never again be frowned down, taboo it as you may; it were dangerous to attempt to silence it; intelligent women are not to be put down as silly women have been; they must be faithful to their convictions. And upon this subject their convictions are so strong, so deeply rooted, that if large families are necessary to the prosperity of the State, you must uneducate woman, rob her of the little intelligence she possesses—make her, if you can, wholly animal; since, page 135 except where the maternal instinct is above the average, she will not bear in the future what she has borne in the past. She will not! To talk to her of “taking what God sends” is profanity, until some reverent thought is exercised in bringing children into the world, and woman is trained and educated to wisely discharge the maternal functions. Man would never be persuaded that he was fated to have, say, from a dozen to five-and-twenty children, if paternity meant to him what it means to woman.

Zee's mother loved her husband, and he deserved to be loved; but she never could forgive him the suffering her seventeen children had occasioned her; she felt instinctively that she had been cruelly wronged in being made to suffer so much for the selfish gratification of another. Her sufferings embittered every moment of her existence (her decease is recent); and it is certain that had her husband been less kind, she would have committed sucide to escape her long martyrdom. She has said, in all simplicity, with tears: “I never would have had so many children if I had known what I know now”—that the passions should be kept well under control.

It is inhuman, brutish to frequently subject a woman to the martyrdom of maternity; the suffering it entails, if nothing else, should limit the size of the family; besides which, when children crowd upon each other, the mother's health is not sufficiently established to give to each child the robust constitution it has a right to demand. Then, again, there are tens of thousands of men who look upon children as a “nuisance,” and bitterly reproach the mother for their existence, no matter what the cost of maternity may have been to her. “Get the brats out of my sight before I come home!” is the frequent cry in many households. A working woman with a large family needs an exceedingly kind husband to make life endurable.

Thanks to the Bradlaugh-Besant prosecution,74 Zee now rejoices in the conviction that never again in the history of Christendom will any woman be known to endure the long martyrdom suffered by her mother page 136 from a family of seventeen children; and if she had the wisdom and strength of any number of men, she would gladly throw them at the feet of the above peerless man and woman. The world needs such fearless leaders, and such leaders need the support of earnest-hearted men and women willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their determination to put down all wrong in such a manner as shall constrain men to exclaim: “Is not this the Christ?” Mr. Bradlaugh and Mrs. Besant are strong—there is no real strength apart from absolute goodness—their every word and deed, judged by the noble stand they made on the above question, prove them to be strong in the all-conquering force of righteous convictions bound to override unreasoning opposition. Loyal to truth and right, with that rare courage which counts life and reputation cheap for the sake of the good that they may do, they possess a religion of a most genuine kind; where there is intelligent earnestness in one's every act, there must be a better religion than such as spends itself in preaching and praying merely. And though under the ban of public opinion, the eyes of the thinking world are fixed upon them with great expectations. Christ will be “lifted up” by them in all his reforming might, as he has been before in our national history, and they will make men do Christ's work, whether they like it or not. By the time men have obtained their intellectual majority, “infidel” will have become, it is believed, the honored name of all that is holiest, purest and best in human life.

It is too bad that women should suffer as they often do in bringing children into the world, and that men should show such utter disregard of life as the liquor traffic75 and the Contagious Diseases Acts76 evidence. O, glaring inconsistency!—large families are a necessity and “prostitution is a necessity”—man is to be made wholly animal! Those infamous Acts sap the very foundation of the home, of the affections, of the entire domestic economy; and what is England without her homes? England with virtue dishonored, page 137 vice regnant—England, the home and fatherland of the Bible—a guilty England! Violate the sanctity of the domestic circle, make woman the creature of man's convenience, not at all entitled to his consideration, and where is the prosperity of the State—where? Men should have thought of what they were doing when they framed such legislation; the day is coming when they themselves and their names will be overwhelmed in deserved execration. No wrong in the universe is a “necessity,” except as discipline. To have licensed the drink traffic is bad enough, but to license the most degrading, undisguised profligacy, is an outrage on common decency, that good men ought to resist to the death. Thank heaven, men are better than their laws, or earth were a pandemonium indeed!

Verily, the vices rampant to-day, whose conquest is impossible to the coward only, are not an enigmatical, mushroom growth; they are the legitimate outcome of this practical infidelity to all things pure and good existing in high quarters, professing and profane. Let the powers that be but license any one kind of infamy, and the unreflecting, who swarm on all hands, and live only in the passing hour, will, of course, do their utmost to license every kind of infamy with, to their minds, sufficient warrant. But, forgetting all distinctions of sect and caste, once let good men and women, however, combine their forces, and they will soon become what they ought to be, but are not, a terror to evil-doers.

70 Fortunatus’ purse in the early English fable "Fortunatus and his Purse" was received from the goddess of Fortune, and was continually replenished as often as Fortunatus withdrew from it.

71 New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster. The Royal Navy vessel the HMS Orpheus struck the Manukau bar on the 7th February 1863, and only one small lifeboat managed to get away. Of the 259 aboard, 189 died.

72 Commodore William Farquharson Burnett of the HMS Orpheus was given a funeral with full military honour. The day of his funeral was observed as a partial day of mourning, with shops, banks, and Government offices all closed.HMS-Orpheus.

73 To be intoxicated; to be very drunk.

74 In June 1877 Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant were tried for publishing and distributing Charles Knowlton’s The Fruits of Philosophy, a pamphlet which contained strong arguments for birth control. They were found guilty for publishing a book which was calculated to “deprave public morals,” and both were sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, and fined 200 pounds. The result of the highly publicised trial was that large numbers of people became aware of not only the need for birth control, but the possibility of being able to plan the size of their families.

75 The Licensing Act of 1873 gave prohibition power to small towns and districts, if a petition signed by two-thirds of its residents was successfully presented to the Local Council. Ellis herself believed in allowing the liquor traffic to stand on its own. She wrote on the 13th May 1891 to the New Zealand Herald : “I would instantly cut the drink traffic adrift, to stand or fall on its own merits, as all legitimate trade must do.” She believed morally ‘good’ or ‘true’ people would choose abstinence, and the trade would die on its own accord.

76 The Contagious Diseases Act gave authorities the legal power to arrest, detain and physically examine women suspected of carrying sexually transmitted diseases. It was implemented in New Zealand in 1869, but the repeal of the Act in Britain in 1880 gave flare to controversy in New Zealand. In 1882 Ellen Ellis campaigned fiercely against the Act, although her petition failed. The Act was not repealed successfully until 1910.