Marm Lisa by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter VI--From Grubb to Butterfly
The children were all nearly a year older when Mrs. Grubb one day climbed the flight of wooden steps heading to Marm Lisa's Paradise, and met, as she did so, a procession of Mistress Mary's neophytes who were wending their way homeward.
The spectacle of a number of persons of either sex, or of both sexes, proceeding in hue or grouped as an audience, acted on Mrs. Grubb precisely as the taste of fresh blood is supposed to act on a tiger in captivity. At such a moment she had but one impulse, and that was to address the meeting. The particular subject was not vital, since it was never the subject, but her own desire to talk, that furnished the necessary inspiration. While she was beginning, 'Ladies and gentlemen,' in her clear, pheasant voice, her convictions, opinions, views, prejudices, feelings, experiences, all flew from the different corners of what she was pleased to call her brain, and focussed themselves on the point in question.
If the discussion were in a field in which she had made no excursions whatever, that trifling detail did not impose silence upon her. She simply rose, and said:
'Ladies and gentlemen, though a stranger in your midst, I feel I must say a word of sympathy to you, and a word of encouragement for your cause. It is a good and worthy movement, and I honour you for upholding it. Often and often have I said to my classes, it matters not what face of truth is revealed to you so long as you get a vision that will help you to bless your fellow-men. To bless your fellow- men is the great task before each and every one of us, and I feel to urge this specially upon occasions like this, when I see a large and influential audience before me. Says Rudyard Kipling, "I saw a hundred men on the road to Delhi, and they were all my brothers." Yes, all our brothers! The brotherhood of man and the sisterhood of woman, those are the subjects that include all others. I am glad to have met with you, and to have heard the eloquent words of your speakers. If any of you would like to know more of my work, I will gladly meet you in Room A at the close of this meeting.'
She then sat down amid applause. Never did Mrs. S. Cora Grubb cease speaking without at least a ripple of approval that sometimes grew into a positive ovation. What wonder, then, that she mistook herself for an inspired person? It was easy to understand her popularity with her fellow-men. Her eyes were as soft and clear as those of a child, her hair waved prettily off her low, serene brow, her figure was plump and womanly, and when her voice trembled with emotion (which in her was a shallow well very near the surface) the charmingest pink colour came and went in her cheeks. On such occasions more than one member of the various brotherhoods thought what a cosy wife she would make, if removed from the public arena to the 'sweet, safe corner of the household fire.' To be sure, she had not much logic, but plenty of sentiment; rather too great a fondness for humanity, perhaps, but that was because she had no husband and family of her own to absorb her superfluous sympathy and energy. Mrs. Grubb was not so easily classified as these 'brothers' imagined, however, and fortunately for them she had no leanings towards any man's fireside. Mr. Grubb had died in the endeavour to understand her, and it is doubtful whether, had he been offered a second life and another opportunity, he would have thought the end justified the means.
This criticism, however, applies only to the family circle, for Mrs. Grubb in a hall was ever winning, delightful, and persuasive. If she was illogical, none of her sister-women realised it, for they were pretty much of the same chaotic order of mind, though with this difference: that a certain proportion of them were everywhere seeking reasons for their weariness, their unhappiness, their poverty, their lack of faith and courage, their unsatisfactory husbands and their disappointing children. These ladies were apt to be a trifle bitter, and much more interested in Equal Suffrage, Temperance, Cremation, and Edenic Diet than in subjects like Palmistry, Telepathy, and Hypnotism, which generally attracted the vague, speculative, feather-headed ones. These discontented persons were always the most frenzied workers and the most eloquent speakers, and those who were determined to get more rights were mild compared with those who were determined to avenge their wrongs. There was, of course, no unanimity of belief running through all these Clubs, Classes, Circles, Societies, Orders, Leagues, Chapters, and Unions; but there was one bond of aversion, and that was domestic service of any kind. That no woman could develop or soar properly, and cook, scrub, sweep, dust, wash dishes, mend, or take care of babies at the same time--to defend this proposition they would cheerfully have gone to the stake. They were willing to concede all these sordid tasks as an honourable department of woman's work, but each wanted them to be done by some other woman.
Mrs. Grubb really belonged to neither of these classes. She was not very keen about more rights, nor very bloodthirsty about her wrongs. She inhabited a kind of serene twilight, the sort that follows an especially pink sunset. She was not wholly clear in her mind about anything, but she was entirely hopeful about the world and its disposition to grow and move in ever ascending spirals. She hated housework as much as any of her followers, although she was seldom allowed to do anything for herself. 'I'll step in and make your beds, Mrs. Grubb; I know you're tired.' 'I'll sweep the front room, Mrs. Grubb; you give yourself out so, I know you need rest.' 'Let me cook your supper while you get up strength for your lecture; there are plenty of people to cook, but there's only one Mrs. Grubb!' These were the tender solicitations she was ever receiving.
As for theories, she had small choice. She had looked into almost every device for increasing the sum of human knowledge and hastening the millennium, and she thought them all more or less valuable. Her memory, mercifully, was not a retentive one, therefore she remembered little of the beliefs she had outgrown; they never left even a deposit in the stretch of wet sand in which they had written themselves.
She had investigated, or at any rate taught, Delsarte, Physical Culture, Dress-Reform, the Blue-glass Cure, Scientific Physiognomy, Phrenology, Cheiromancy, Astrology, Vegetarianism, Edenic Diet, Single Tax, Evolution, Mental Healing, Christian Science, Spiritualism, Theosophy, and Hypnotism. All these metamorphoses of thought had Mrs. S. Cora Grubb passed through, and was not yet a finished butterfly. Some of the ideas she had left far behind, but she still believed in them as fragments of truth suitable for feeble growing souls that could not bear the full light of revelation in one burst. She held honorary memberships in most of the outgrown societies, attended annual meetings of others, and kept in touch with all the rest by being present at their social reunions.
One of her present enthusiasms was her 'Kipling Brothers,' the boys' band enlisted under the motto, 'I saw a hundred men on the road to Delhi, and they were all my brothers.' She believed that there was no salvation for a boy outside of a band. Banded somehow he must be, then badged, beribboned, bannered, and bye-lawed. From the moment a boy's mother had left off her bye-lows, Mrs. Grubb wanted him put under bye-laws. She often visited Mistress Mary with the idea that some time she could interest her in one of her thousand schemes; but this special call was to see if the older children, whose neat handiwork she had seen and admired, could embroider mottoes on cardboard to adorn the Kipling room at an approaching festival. She particularly wanted 'Look not upon the Wine' done in blood-red upon black, and 'Shun the Filthy Weed' in smoke-colour on bright green. She had in her hand a card with the points for her annual address noted upon it, for this sort of work she ordinarily did in the horse- cars. These ran:
1st. Value of individuality. 'I saw.'
2nd. Value of observation. 'I saw.'
3rd. Value of numbers. 'I saw a hundred men.'
4th. Importance of belonging to the male sex. It was men who were seen on the road.
5th. What and where is Delhi?
6th. Description of the road thither.
7th. Every boy has his Delhi.
8th. Are you 'on the road'?
9th. The brotherhood of man.
10th. The Kipling Brothers' Call to Arms.
She intended to run through the heads of this impassioned oration to Mistress Mary, whom she rather liked; and, in truth, Mary had difficulty in disliking her, though she thoroughly disapproved of her. She was so amiable, and apparently so susceptible to teaching, that Mary always fancied her on the verge of something better. Her vagaries, her neglects, and what to Mary's mind were positive inhumanities, seemed in a way unconscious. 'If I can only get into sufficiently friendly relations,' thought Mary, 'so that I can convince her that her first and highest duty lies in the direction of the three children, I believe she will have the heroism to do it!' But in this Mistress Mary's instinct was at fault. Mrs. Grubb took indeed no real cognisance of her immediate surroundings, but she would not have wished to see near duties any more clearly. Neither had she any sane and healthy interest in good works of any kind; she simply had a sort of philanthropic hysteria, and her most successful speeches were so many spasms.