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and all hated to see their daughters running here and there without an elder eye upon them-"but if I suggest going with her to a dance or show, she tells me that it makes her queer and conspicuous, and will kill her with the bunch." All wanted their daughters to "have friends" and to "be happy," ending with the pathetic query: "That's only natural, isn't it?"
I submit these phrases, common to all, as a complete exculpation of the modern girl. Every one of the scores of letters I received was virtually an abdication of maternal authority, and an evasion of maternal responsibility! Not in a single one was there a note of conscientious, courageous motherhood; only whimpers, futile hand-wringing and helpless bewilderment. The only comfort lay in the fact that not one gave a real name or address, an anonymity that showed a certain shame for her own cowardice.
The three phrases that stood out most prominently were these: "It's so hard to keep saying 'No' all the time"; "After all, a girl is young only once"; and "I want my daughter to be happy." Every mother wrote to me out of a very real anxiety, and yet all stressed these hackneyed excuses as though they contained a definite justification for their failures. Not one apparently realized that the seeming extenuations were actually indictments.
"She's only young once." There's the stark tragedy of it! Just a few short years in which to teach her truth, taste, delicacy, duty, respect, judgment, industry, responsibility, standards of perfection, self-discipline. Just a few short years in which to mold the character in such strength that it can and will
stand against the assault of every power of evil. No second chance to repair criminal blunders and neglects, for not all the tears of the world can turn time back, or all the passions of regret and remorse restore innocency's lost bloom. "She's only young once!" Never was there a louder call to maternal love and vigilance; yet these mothers who wrote me seemed to have heard in it only an excuse for weak indulgence.
Why? What is the reason for this tragic confusion that has come upon us? Is it that modern women are indifferent and lazy, putting their own pleasures before the drudging responsibilities of motherhood? Or is it that they have been muddled by all this modern claptrap about youth, and the importance of allowing children to "find themselves," to "express themselves" until these mothers truly and honestly believe that the girl of to-day is different from the girl of yesterday, and cannot be brought up as we were brought up by our mothers.
Where is there a normal mother who doesn't want her daughter to be happy? But to assure that desired end, must all powers of decision be turned over to the child? Is parental control to be surrendered entirely, and every adolescent constituted sole judge of what makes for happiness? I think I may say I have no lack of interest in my daughter's joyousness, but certainly it never enters my head to give her full liberty of choice and action, letting her dash off in blind pursuit of every whim and wish that possesses her from day to day, and even hour to hour.
Coming right down to the heart
of the matter, where is there any problem in providing happiness for a growing child? Health is the base of it, and what surer road to health than early hours, plenty of sleep and freedom from unwholesome excitement? A little time, a little thought, a little intelligence, and every waking hour of a youngster can be filled with so much of joy, color and interest that there is no possible room for the disappointments that come from being denied the hurtful and unwise. Who will say that such normal children, made to flower naturally, do not have firmer foundations for happiness than those who have been cheated out of childhood, and are restless and nervous, bored and blasé at eighteen? I have seen many girls whose mothers gave them their heads at thirteen because they "wanted them to be happy," and I do not know of any sadder sight.
Of course I want my girl to have friends and to be popular. But does that mean any kind of a friend, no matter how bad her example, how vicious her influence? If a girl of thirteen has to rouge, smoke, drink and "pet" in order not to be "set apart" and "cut off from the crowd," what greater proof is needed that it's the wrong sort of crowd? If her popularity depends on running the streets of an afternoon, thinking sex when she ought to be thinking school, or huddling in parked cars, then it's a popularity that no mother should wish her girl to have. If manners and modesty, and the innocence that is in keeping with tender years, are things that make a child "queer" and "conspicuous," why not want her to be queer and conspicuous!
What if such an attitude does make "bad times" between a mother and her daughter now and then? Isn't it a thousand times better to have her cry her tears now-tears of a quickly forgotten disappointment
than have her weep her heart out at some later day?
As for hating to say "No" all the time, what mother doesn't? But why should it be necessary? If a child has been reared in the understanding that there are certain things she can not do, and taught the futility of begging, there is no chance for noisy pleading and exhausting temper-fits. Every mother, even the laziest and silliest, knows that it is dangerous to let the baby play with matches, and as a consequence, children grow up in the knowledge that this prohibition is unbreakable. We do not hear thirteen-yearolds wheedling, whining and crying for permission to burn down the house. It does not even occur to them to ask, for they have been drilled into acceptance of the fact that it is forbidden.
Why then, is it not possible to lay down hard and fast rules with relation to other things that are equally dangerous? Speaking from my own experience, I can testify that it is possible. From the time that they were able to walk and talk, my children have had fixed bed hours, and were taught to realize that it was a rule that permitted no argument. When my daughter was thirteen, she was given an extension of time and now goes to bed at half past eight, one hour later than her eleven year old brother. I do not have to keep saying "No" to their pleas to be allowed to stay up a
little longer, because the rule is one that they have grown up with, that they have been compelled to observe until the habit of obedience is automatic.
Invitations to evening parties, therefore, cause me no trouble whatever. When any of my daughter's thirteen year old friends ask her to some affair that begins at eight and lasts until eleven, I am not compelled to say "No," because the rule says it for me. Doubtless she has her moment of secret rebellion in which she mutters to herself, "Just wait until I'm eighteen," but there is no crying, whining and sulking, or any large amount of disappointment, for never at any time did she expect she could go. She has to be in bed every night by half past eight, and she knows it!
So many of the anonymous mothers wrote of bitter anxieties: "School is out at half past three, but my daughter rarely gets home until six"; "I never know where my daughter is half the time"; "My daughter's absences worry me sick, but I don't want to embarrass her by telephoning to the homes of her friends." Would they be a prey to these fears if their daughters had been brought up under a rule that established the right of the mother to know where her children are every minute of the day; if it had been made a law of their young lives that under no circumstances could they go anywhere or do anything without the mother's knowledge and consent?
Hard on the child? Not a bit of it. It is the mother that it is hard on, for to establish a rule calls for patience and unremitting drudgery.
But what of it? Children are a duty, a sacred obligation, and the parent who regards them as a "luxury" is guilty of a sin against youth. Surely if children were meant merely for our pleasure, God would not have created lap-dogs.
Doubtless many will accuse me of being old-fashioned. Well, I am! I have no patience with this nonsense about children "finding themselves," and to such mothers as have been fooled by this gabble, I recommend a visit to any juvenile court. To-day, when the whole country seems to be in the grip of a species of sex-madness, when on every hand there is an apparent revulsion against the normalities of life, and when the decent reticences of the past have been thrown aside, more than ever is there need to wrap protective arms about our children, holding them close, guarding them well, until character is crystallized.
I am not a modern mother, nor do I want to be. They can even call me Victorian without arousing the slightest irritation. I hold, just as my mother held, that morals, manners, taste, decencies and duties -all the things that enable human beings to get the most out of life— are not natural instincts, but the slow fruit of care and training; that it is criminally stupid to let a growing child dictate its actions and its conduct; that adolescence, instead of abating the necessity of parental watchfulness, is a time when that watchfulness must be redoubled; that motherhood is not a joy-ride but a job, and that we must answer for our failures to our children and to the God of final judgment.
DON'T suppose," the voice was gentle yet assured, "that you remember me?" Sybil Verney, turning, shifting her gaze from the familiar beauty of the madonna on the wall, had the queer and sudden sense of meeting, in the face of the woman before her, those very qualities of which the Botticelli's loveliness was constituted. The same sweet brow and mouth, the same anemone tints and shadows, the same wondering tranquillity in the eyes; the texture and color of youth made subtle by pain, and luminous by serenity.
"that summer in France-at Etretat! Our families had neighboring villas -and you used to tie back your hair with a black velvet ribbon and we used to eat at 'pâtisseries' and drink 'sirops' together!"
Amusement broke over the stranger's face as sunshine on an April landscape.
"And you," she replied, "were fearfully good-looking and rather plump!" She visibly took in Sybil's person, broad-shouldered but tall and slender in her crimson suitthe dark and arresting quality of her features emphasized by the Russian
Sybil Verney hesitated—and the toque of crimson and gold, and by stranger smiled. the sables about her neck-"and you always," there was charming friendly mocking in the tone, “walked like a tragedy queen."
"It's so very long ago," she said, and as she spoke there was a stir, the faintest movement among Sybil's sleeping memories.
"I believe" Sybil began, and her dark direct gaze searched the face lifted to hers. But the madonna quality would interpose and that quality was not in her memory.
"I saw you," said the stranger, "from the other end of the galleryit was your way of moving-I should have known at once, even if I hadn't seen your photograph in the papers so often-"
Sybil, laughing, threw back her head with something of a conscious gesture-and her laugh had a timbre at once mellow and faintly perfunctory, a laugh that must on countless occasions have served an assumed gaiety. There was moreover discernible in her whole countenance beneath its striking variations and effects, a quality of the somber; a lurking darkness which though it showed up the play and brilliance of her expressions, seemed somehow perpetual, and essential in her, conceivably framing the stage of her personality when she was alone and
"But of course," Sybil cried, illumined by her sudden recollection. "Of course," she repeated in her strong unconsciously dramatic tones,
when there was no audience to handed Sybil the card; and as she demand a "show."
It was a perception of this that made the woman who had accosted her, greet her laugh with an abrupt and, on the surface, inexplicable little gesture of sympathy.
"Your face hasn't changed," she said, "and your fortune" and again she flashed her quick heartfelt smile, "has been wonderful, perfectly wonderful-everything that you dreamed of success, recognition of your painting-celebrity."
"Yes," said Sybil, and her pause was, even to herself, enigmatic. "And your name was Mary," she went on, with some tempo of escape in her tone, "Mary Baxendale." The other nodded.
"Sixteen years ago," Sybil breathed, "that hot, hot summer -1911-and we swam before breakfast, together-" The words "everything that you dreamed of" chimed with a queer hesitancy in Sybil's head.
"We must meet again, very soon," she continued. "I have to rush now, I've a sitter at 12:15. But let us meet," she brilliantly and yet deeply emphasized.
The other was eager.
“Indeed yes! Will you come and see me?" She searched for a card as they strolled together through the gallery, emerging to the command of Trafalgar Square, supremely gray and fine, and magically golden under a September sky. "I've not got a card with me, but I'll write it." She drew off a worn glove to facilitate her writing. Sybil noticed that her coat too had the fragile look of long discreet service. "My name's Mary Johnson now!" she
raised her face Sybil was struck afresh by the extraordinary affinity with that flowerlike Botticelli loveliness.
"So you did then!" Sybil exclaimed. "Mary Johnson-"” and for a second she hesitated, with a faint, and she told herself, absurd sense of being perturbed over the surname. "So you did marry!"
Mary Johnson nodded.
"Then you too," Sybil went on, "just as you'd planned too-everything that you dreamed?" she lightly echoed.
The other seemed to waver and then draw herself up while her look met Sybil's with an extraordinary poignant serenity:
"Even beyond what I dreamed," she said, and held out her hand in farewell.
Sybil walked westward along the Mall and through St. James's Park, her progress having, as Mary Johnson had amusedly intimated, some flavor of the "tragedy queen," deriving possibly as much from her consciousness of being stared at as from the striking physical qualities and a certain splendor of dress by which she had for years been accustomed to demand public attention.
She was, in fact, so used to this attention of passers-by, to assuming a reaction of interest and admiration in whosoever set eyes on her, and having from that often self-dramatized childhood of an imaginative nature, taken the rôle of cynosure, that it had become for her a kind of moral support, an essential, if unconscious part of her self-respect.