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- Their Yesterdays - 10/34 -

now to know them when they were working out their dreams; at times with hopes high and courage strong; at other times discouraged, frightened, and dismayed. She had known them only as they dreamed of the past--when they talked in low tones of the days that were gone: now she saw them as they thought only of the present and the days that were to come. So this woman, from the world into which she had gone, gained knowledge of mankind.

And this is the pity and the danger of it: that the woman gained this knowledge from a world, that, even as it taught her, denied her womanhood. The sadness of it all is this: to the world that refused to recognize her womanhood, it was given to teach her that which would make her womanhood complete. The knowledge that she must have to complete her womanhood the woman should have gained only from the life of her dreams--the life that is beyond that old, old, open door through which she could not pass alone. In the companionship, sympathy, strength, protection, and love, of that one who was to cross with her the threshold of the door that God set open in the beginning, she should have gained the knowledge of life that would ripen her girlhood into womanhood. For what else, indeed, has God given love to men and women? In the strength that would come to her with her children, the woman should have been privileged to learn sorrow and pain. In the world that would have honored, above all else, her womanhood, she should have been permitted to find the knowledge of life that would perfect and complete her womanhood.

Fruit, I know, may be picked green from the tree and artificially forced to a kind of ripeness. But the fruit that matures under Nature's careful hand; that knows in its ripening the warm sunshine and the cleansing showers, the cool of the quiet evening and the freshness of the dewy morn, the strength of the roaring storms and the softness of the caressing breeze--this fruit alone, I say, has the flavor that is from heaven.

It is a trite saying that many a girl of sixteen, these days, knows more of life than her grandmother knew at sixty. It remains to be proven that, because of this knowledge, the young woman of to-day is a better woman than her grandmother was. But, as the only positive proof would be her children, the case is very likely to be thrown out of court for lack of evidence for it seems, somehow, that, when women gain Knowledge from that world into which they go alone, leaving their womanhood behind, they acquire also a strange pride in being too wise to mate for love or to bear children. And yet, it is true, that the knowledge that enables a woman to live happy and contented without children is a damnable knowledge and a menace to the race.

Poor old world, you are so "grown up" these days and your palate is so educated to the artificial flavor that you have forgotten, seemingly, how peaches taste when ripened on the trees. God pity you, old world, if you do not soon get back into the orchard before you lose your taste for fruit altogether.

The knowledge that the woman gained from her Occupation made her question, more and more, if that one with whom she could cross the threshold of the door that led to the life of her dreams, would ever come. The knowledge she gained made her doubt her courage to enter that door with him if he should come. In the knowledge she gained of the world into which she had gone alone, her womanhood's only salvation was this: that she gained also the knowledge that the world of men, even as the world of women, is a world of hungry hearts. It was this that kept her--that made her strong--that saved her. It was this knowledge that saved her womanhood for herself and for the race.

The week, for the woman, had been a hard week. The day, for her, had been a hard day. When she boarded the car to go to her home she was very tired and she was not quite the picture of perfect woman health that she had been that other Saturday--the time of falling leaves.

For some unaccountable reason there was one vacant seat left in the car and she dropped into it with a little inward sigh of relief. With weary, unseeing, eyes she stared out of the window at the throng of people hurrying along through the mud and slush of the streets. Her tired brain refused to think. Her very soul was faint with loneliness and the knowledge that she was gaining of life.

The car stopped again and a party of girls of the high school age, evidently just from the Saturday matinee, crowded in. Clinging to the straps and the backs of seats, clutching each other with little gusts and ripples of laughter, they filled the aisle of the crowded car with a fresh and joyous life that touched the tired woman like a breath of spring. In all this work stale, stupidly weary, world there is nothing so refreshing as the wholesome laugh of a happy, care free, young girl. The woman whose heart was heavy with knowledge of life would have liked to take them in her arms. She felt a sense of gratitude as though she were indebted to them just for their being. And would these, too--the woman thought--would these, too, be forced by the custom of the age--by necessity--to go into the world that would not recognize their womanhood--that would put a price upon the priceless things of their womanhood--that would teach them hard lessons of life and, with a too early knowledge, crush out the sweet girlish naturalness, even as a thoughtless foot crushes a tender flower while still it is in the bud?

And thinking thus, perhaps because of her weariness, perhaps because of some chance word dropped by the girls as they talked of their school and schoolmates, the woman went back again into her Yesterdays--to the schoolmates of her Yesterdays. The world in which she now lived and labored was forgotten. Forgotten were the worries and troubles of her grown up life--forgotten the trials and disappointments--forgotten the new friends, the uncongenial acquaintances, the cruel knowledge, the heartless business--forgotten everything of the present--all, all, was lost in a golden mist of the long ago.

The tall, graceful, girl holding to a strap at the forward end of the car, in the woman's Yesterdays, lived just beyond the white church at the corner. The dark haired, dark eyed, round faced one, she knew as the minister's daughter. While the dainty, doll like, miss clinging to her sturdier sister, in those days of long ago, was the woman's own particular chum. And the girl with the yellow curls--the one with the golden hair--the blue eyed, and the brown--the slender and the stout--every one--belonged to the tired woman's Yesterdays--every one she had known in the past and to each she gave a name.

And then--as the woman, watching the young schoolgirls in the crowded car, lived once again those days of the old schoolhouse on the hill where, with her girl companions of the long ago, she sought the beginnings of Knowledge--the boys came, too. Just as in the Yesterdays they had come to take their places in the old schoolroom, they came, now, to take their places in the woman's memory.

There was the tall, thin, lad whose shoulders seemed, even in his school days, to find the burden of life too heavy; and who wore always on his face such a sad and solemn air that one was almost startled when he laughed as though the parson had cracked a joke at a funeral. The woman smiled as she remembered how his clothes were never known to fit him. When his trousers were so short that they barely reached below his knees his coat sleeves covered his hands and the skirts of that garment almost swept the ground; but, when the trousers were rolled up at the bottom and hung over his feet like huge bags, his long, thin, arms showed, half way to his elbows, in a coat that was too small to button about even his narrow chest. That boy never missed his lessons, though, but when he learned them no one ever knew for he seemed to be always drawing grotesque figures and funny faces on his slate or whittling slyly on some curious toy when the teacher's back was turned. He had no particular chum or crony. He was never a leader but dared to follow the boldest. To the little boys and girls he was a hero; to the older ones he was--"Slim."

The woman, by chance, had met this old schoolmate, one day, in her grown up world. In the editorial rooms of a large city daily he was the chief, and she noticed that his clothing fitted him a little better; that he was a little broader in the shoulders; a little larger around the waist; his face was not quite so solemn and his eyes had a more knowing look perhaps. But still--still--the woman could see that he was, after all, the same old "Slim" and she fancied, with another smile, that he often, still, whittled toys when the teacher's back was turned.

Then came the fat boy--"Stuffy." He, too, had another name which does not matter. Always in the Yesterdays, as in the to-days, there is a "Stuffy." "Stuffy" was evidently built to roll through life, pushed gently by that special providence that seems to look after the affairs of fat people. His teeth were white and even, his eyes of the deepest blue, and his nose--what there was of it--was almost hidden by cheeks that were as red and shiny as the apples he always carried in his pocket. He was very generous with those same apples--was "Stuffy"--though one was tempted to think that he shared his fruit not so much from choice but rather because he disliked the hard work that was sure to follow a refusal of the pressing invitation to "go halvers." The woman fancied that she could see again the look of mingled fun and fear, generosity and greed, that went over her schoolmate's face as he saw the half of his eatable possessions pass into the keeping of his companions. And then, as he watched the tempting morsels disappear, the expression on his face would seem to show a battle royal between his stomach and his heart, in that he rejoiced to see the happiness of his friends, even while he coveted that which gave them pleasure. She wondered where was "Stuffy" now? She felt sure that he must live in a big house, and drive to and from his place of business in a fine carriage, with fine horses and a coachman in livery, and dine and wine his friends as often as he chose with never a fear that he would run short of good things for himself. She was quite sure, too, that he would suffer with severe attacks of gout at times and would have four or five half grown daughters and a wife of great ambition. Does he, she wondered, does he ever--in the whirl and rush of business or in the excitement and pleasure of his social life--does he ever go back to those other days? Does the grown up "Stuffy" remember how once he traded marbles for candy or bought sweet cakes with toys?

And then, there was the boy with the freckled face and tangled hair, whose nose seemed always trying to peep into his own mischief lighted eyes as though wishing to see what new deviltry was breeding there: and his crony, who never could learn the multiplication table, who was forever swearing vengeance on the teacher, whose clothes were always torn, and who carried frogs and little snakes in his pockets: and the timid boys who always played in one corner of the yard by themselves or with the girls or stood by and watched, with mingled admiration and envy, the games and pranks of the bolder lads: and "Dummy"--poor "Dummy"--the shining mark for every schoolboy trick and joke; with his shock of yellow hair, his weak cross eyes, his sharp nose, thin lips, and shambling, shuffling, shifting manner--poor "Dummy."

And of course there was a bully, the Ishmael of the school, whom everybody shunned and nobody liked; who fought the teacher and frightened the little children; who chewed, and smoked, and swore, and lied, and did everything bad that a boy could do. He had a few followers, a very few, who joined him rather through fear than admiration and not one of whom cared for or trusted him. The woman remembered how this schoolboy face was sadly hard and cold and cruel,

Their Yesterdays - 10/34

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