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The Consolations Of Spinsterhood Post by :commocheck Category :Essays Author :Myrtle Reed Date :November 2011 Read :1740

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The Consolations Of Spinsterhood

(Sidenote: "A Great Miration")

The attached members of the community are wont to make what Uncle Remus called "a great miration," when a woman deliberately chooses spinsterhood as her lot in life, rather than marriage.

There is an implied pity in their delicate inquiries, and always the insinuation that the spinster in question could never have had an offer of marriage. The husband of the lady leading the inquisition may have been one of the spinster's first admirers, but it is never safe to say so, for so simple a thing as this has been known to cause trouble in families.

If it is known positively that some man has offered her his name and his troubles, and there is still no solitaire to be seen, the logical hypothesis is charitably advanced, that she has been "disappointed in love." It is possible for a spinster to be disappointed in lovers, but only the married are ever disappointed in love.

(Sidenote: A Cause of Stagnation)

The married women who ask the questions and who, with gracious kindness, hunt up attractive men for the unfortunate young woman to meet, are, all unknowingly, one great cause of stagnation in the marriage-license market.

Nothing so pleases a woman safely inside the bonds of holy matrimony as to confide her sorrows, her regrets, and her broken ideals to her unattached friends. Many a woman thinks her ideal is broken when it is only sprained, but the effect is the same.

Was the coffee weak and were the waffles cold, and did Monsieur express his opinion of such a breakfast in language more concise than elegant? Madame weeps, and gives a lurid account of the event to the visiting spinster. By any chance, does a girl go from her own dainty and orderly room into an apartment strewn with masculine belongings, confounded upon confusion such as Milton never dreamed? Does she have to wait while her friend restores order to the chaos? If so, she puts it down in her mental note-book, upon the page headed "Against."

The small domestic irritations which crowd upon the attached woman from day to day, leaving crow's feet around her eyes and delicate tracery in her forehead, have a certain effect upon the observing. But worse than this is the spectre of "the other woman," which haunts her friend from day to day, to the grave--and after, if the dead could tell their thoughts.

If she has been safely shielded from books which were not written for The Young Person, Mademoiselle believes that marriage is a bond which is not to be broken except by death. It is a severe shock when she first discovers that death changes nothing; that it is only life which separates utterly.

(Sidenote: That Pitiful Story)

That pitiful story of "the other woman" comes from quarters which the uninitiated would never suspect. With grim loyalty, married women hide their hearts from each other. Many a smile conceals a tortured soul. When the burden is no longer to be borne, a spinster is asked to share it.

A woman will forgive a man anything except disloyalty to herself. Crimes which the law stands ready to punish rank as naught with her, if the love between them is untarnished by doubt or mistrust. Any offence prompted by her own charm, even a duel to the death with a rival suitor, is easily condoned. But though God may be able to forgive disloyalty, in her heart of hearts no woman ever can.

(Sidenote: An Idle Flirtation)

More often than not, it is simply an idle flirtation, or, at the most, a passing fancy which the next week may prove transient and unreal. The woman with the heartache will say, with wet eyes and quivering lips: "I know, positively, that my husband has done nothing wrong. I would go to the stake upon that belief. He is only weak and foolish and a little vain, perhaps, and some day he will see his mistake, but I cannot bear to see him compromise himself and me in the eyes of the world. Of course, I know," she will say, proudly, "but there are others who do not,--who are always ready to suspect,--and I will not have them pity me!"

When nearly all the married friends a spinster has have come to her with the same story, the variations being individual and of slight moment, she begins to have serious doubts of matrimony as a satisfactory career. Women who have been married five, ten, and even twenty years; women with children grown and whom the world counts safely and happily married, will sob bitterly in the embrace of the chosen girl friend.

(Sidenote: Indifference)

Indifference is the only counsel one has to offer, but even so, it gradually becomes the first of the steppes upon the heart-way which lead to an emotional Siberia.

Of course there are women who are insanely jealous of their husbands, and, more rarely, men who are jealous of their wives. Jealousy may be explained as innate vanity and selfishness or as a defect in temperament, but at any rate, it is a condition which is far past the theoretical stage.

It is hard for a spinster to understand why any woman should wish to hold a man against his will. A dog who has to be kept chained, in order to be retained as a pet, is never a very satisfactory possession. It seems natural to apply the same reasoning to human affairs, for surely no love is worth having which is not a free gift.

No girl would feel particularly flattered by a proposal, if it were put in this form: "Will you marry me? No one else will." Yet the same girl, married, would gladly take her husband to a desert island, that she might be sure of him forever.

(Sidenote: Behind Prison Bars)

Love which needs to be put behind prison bars, that it may not escape, is not love, but attraction, fascination, or whatever the psychologists may please. A man chooses his wife, not because there are no other women, but in spite of them. It is a pathetic acknowledgment of his poor judgment, if he lets the world suspect that his choice was wrong.

There are some souls that hie them faraway from civilisation, to convents, monasteries, and western plains, that they may keep away from temptation. In the same fashion, woman tries to isolate her lord and master. If he meets women at all, they are those invisibly labeled "not dangerous."

The world makes as many saints as sinners, and the man who needs to be kept away from any sort of temptation is weak indeed. There are many of his kind, but he is the better man in the end who meets it face to face, fights with it like a soldier, and wins like a king.

(Sidenote: The Thousand Foes)

The mother of Sparta bade her son return with his shield or on it, and the thought has potential might to-day. If a man honestly loves a woman, she need have no fear of the thousand foes that wait to take him from her. If he does not, the sooner she understands the truth, the better it is for both. There are many people who consider love a dream, but they usually grow to think of marriage as the cold breakfast.

Men are but children of a larger growth. A small boy forgets his promise to stay at home and tears madly down the street in the discordant wake of a band. The same boy, in later years, will follow his impulses with equal readiness, for he is taught conformity to outward laws, but very seldom self-control.

The fear of "the other woman" may be largely assuaged by a spinster's confidence in her ability to cope with the difficult situation, should it ever present itself, but there are other considerations which act as a discouragement to matrimony.

The chains of love may be sweet bondage, but freedom is hardly less dear. The spinster, like the wind, may go where she listeth, and there is no one to say her nay. A modern essayist has pointed out that "if a mortal knows his mate cannot get away, he is apt to be severe and unreasonable."

The thought of being compelled to ask for money, and perhaps to meet with refusal, frequently acts as a deterrent upon incipient love. A man is often generous with his sweetheart and miserly with his wife. In the days of courtship, the dollars may fly on wings in search of pleasure for the well-beloved, and yet, after marriage, they will be squeezed until the milling is worn smooth, the eyes start from the eagle, and until one half-way expects to hear the noble bird scream.

(Sidenote: Unlimited Credit)

There are girls in every circle, married to men not by any means insolvent, who have unlimited credit, but never any money of their own. They have carriages but no car fare; fine stationery, monogrammed and blazoned with a coat of arms, but not by any chance a postage stamp.

Many a woman in such circumstances covenants with the tradespeople to charge as merchandise what is really cash, and sells laces and ribbons to her friends a little below cost. When a girl is approached with a plea to have her purchases charged to her friend's account, and to pay her friend rather than the merchant, is it not sufficient to postpone possible matrimony at least six months? Adversity has no terrors for a woman; she will gladly share misfortune with the man she loves, but simple selfishness is a very different proposition.

(Sidenote: "Wedded to their Art")

There are also the dazzling allurements offered by various "careers" which bring fame and perhaps fortune. The glittering triumphs of a prima donna, a picture on the line in the Salon, or a possible book which shall sell into the hundred thousands, are not without a certain charm, even though people who are "wedded to their art" sometimes get a divorce without asking for it.

The universal testimony of the great, that fame itself is barren, is thrust aside as of small moment. She does not realise that it is love for which she hungers, rather than fame, which is the admiration of the many. Sometimes she learns that "the love of all is but a small thing to the love of one" and that in a right marriage there would be no conscious sacrifice. If she were not free to continue the work that she loved, she would feel no deprivation.

Happiness is often thrust aside because of her ideals. She demands all things in a single man, forgetting that she, too, is human and not by any means faultless. Some day, perhaps too late, she understands that love and criticism lie far apart, that love brings beauty with it, and that the marks of individuality are the very texture of charm, as the splendour of the opal lies in its flaws.

(Sidenote: The Vital Touch)

There is always the doubt as to whether the seeker may be the one of all the world to find the inmost places in her heart. Taste and temperament may be akin, position and purpose in full accord, and yet the vital touch may be lacking. Sometimes, in the after-years, it may be found by two who seek for it patiently together, but too often dissonance grows into discord and estrangement.

The march of civilisation has done away with the odium which was formerly the portion of the unattached woman. It is no disgrace to be a spinster, and apparently it is fitting and proper to be an old maid, since so many of them have "Mrs." on their cards, and since there are so many narrow-minded and critical men who fully deserve the appellation.

There is no use in saying that any particular girl is a spinster from necessity rather than choice. One has but to look at the peculiar specimens of womankind who have married, to be certain that there is no one on the wide earth who could not do so if she chose.

(Sidenote: "A Discipline")

Some people are fond of alluding to marriage as "a discipline," and sometimes a grey-haired matron will volunteer the information that "the first years of marriage are anything but happy." To one who has hitherto regarded it from a different point of view, the training-school idea is not altogether attractive.

Men and women who have been through it very seldom hold to their first opinions. It is considered as a business arrangement, a social contrivance, sometimes as an easy way to make money, but by very few as the highest form of happiness.

(Sidenote: Small Extravagances)

The consolations of spinsterhood are mainly negative, but the minus sign has its proper place in the personal equation. "The other woman" does not exist for the spinster, save as a shadowy possibility. She is not asked what she did with the nickel which was given her day before yesterday, and thus forced to make confession of small extravagances, or to reply, with such sweetness as she may muster, that she bought a lot on a fashionable street with part of it, and has the remainder out at interest. She does not have to stay at home from social affairs because she has no escort, for the law has not apportioned to her a solitary man, and she has a liberty of choice which is not accorded her married friend.

She is not subjected to the humiliation of asking a man for money to pay for his own food, his own service, and even his own laundry bill. She can usually earn her own, if the gods have not awarded her sufficient gold, and there is no money which a woman spends so happily as that which she has earned herself.

The "career" lies before her, and she has only to choose the thing for which she is best fitted, and work her way upward from the lowest ranks to the position of a star of the first magnitude. Opportunity is but another name for health, obstacles make firm stepping-stones, and that which is dearly bought is by far the sweetest in the end. Of course there are "strings to pull," but no one needs them. Success is more lasting if it is won in an open field, without favour, and in spite of generous measures of it bestowed upon the opposition.

(Sidenote: The Greatest Consolation)

But of all the consolations of spinsterhood, the greatest is this,--that out of the dim and uncertain future, perchance in the guise of a divorced man or a widower with four children, The Prince may yet come.

"On his plain but trusty sword are these words only--Love and Understand." Across the unsounded, estranging seas, with a whole world lying immutably between, he, too, may be waiting for the revelation. He may come as a knight of old, with banners, jewels, and flashing steel, to the clarion ring of trumpet or cymbal, or softly, in the twilight, like one whose presence is felt before it is made known.

Out of the city streets The Prince may come, tired of the endless struggle, when the tide of the human has beaten heavily upon his jaded soul, or through the woods, with the silence of the forest still upon him. His path may lie through an old garden, where marigold and larkspur are thickly interwoven, and shadowy spikes of mignonette make all the summer sweet, or through the frosty darkness, when the earth is dumb with snow and the midnight stars have set the heavens ablaze with spires of sapphire light.

(Sidenote: At the First Meeting)

Sometimes, at the first meeting The Prince is known, by that mysterious alchemy which lies in the depths of the maiden soul and often, after long waiting, a friend throws off his disguise and royalty stands revealed. Sometimes he is the comrade of the far-off childish years, the schoolmate of a later time, or someone whose hand has proved a strength and solace in times of deepest grief.

"To Love and Understand!" All else may be forgiven, if he has but these two gifts, for they are as the crest and royal robe. Bare and empty his hands may be, but these are the kingly rights.

Slowly, and sometimes with a strange fear which makes her tremble, there steals into her heart a great peace. With it comes infinite tenderness and an unspeakable compassion, not only for him, but for all the world. Love's laughter changes to questioning too deep for smiles or tears--the boundless aspiration of the soul toward all things true.

Playthings and tinsel are cast away. The music of the dance dies in lingering, discordant fragments, and in its place comes the full tone of an organ and the majestic movement of a symphony. The web of the daily living grows beautiful in the new light, for the Hand that set the pattern has been gently laid upon her loom.

(Sidenote: Through all the Years to Come)

Through all the years to come, they are to be together; he and she. There will be no terror in the wilderness, no sting in poverty or defeat--hunger and thirst can be forgotten. Wherever Destiny may point the way, they are to fare together--he and she.

Somewhere, in a world whose only shame is its uncleanliness, they two are to make a home and keep the little space around them wholly clean. Somewhere, they two will show the world that the old ideals are not lost; that a man and a woman may still live together in supreme and lasting content. Somewhere, too, they will teach anew the old lesson, that it is unyielding Honour at the core of things that keeps them sound and sweet.

There is nothing in all life so beautiful as that first dream of Home; a place where there is balm for the tortured soul, new courage for the wavering soul, rest for the tired soul, and stronger trust for the soul caught in the snares of doubt and disbelief--a place where one may be wholly and joyfully one's self, where one's mistakes are never faults, where pardon ever anticipates the asking, where love follows swiftly upon understanding and understanding upon love.

(Sidenote: The Sceptre of the King)

"To Love and Understand!" He who holds the sceptre of the king may rule right royally. There is solace for the tired traveller within the cloister of that other heart, and the pitiful chains which some call marriage would rust and decay at the entrance to that holy place.

The spotless peace within the inner chamber is his alone. There his motives are never questioned, nor his words distorted beyond their meaning, and his daily purposes are ever read aright.

The dream is forever centred upon the coming of The Prince. Sometimes, with the grim irony of Fate, he is seen when both are bound--and there are some who deem a heartache too great a price to pay for the revelation. Now and then, after many years, he comes to claim his own.

(Sidenote: The Grey Angel and the Prince)

And sometimes, too, when one has long waited and prayed for his coming; when the sight has grown dim with watching and the frosty rime of winter has softly touched the dark hair, the Grey Angel takes pity and closes the tired eyes.

The lavender and the dead rose-leaves breathe a hushed fragrance from the heaps of long-stored linen; the cricket and the tiny clock keep up their cheery song, because they do not know their gentle mistress can no longer hear. The slanting sunbeams of afternoon mark out a delicate tracery upon the floor, and the shadow of the rose-geranium in the window is silhouetted upon the opposite wall. And then, into the quiet house, steals something which seems like an infinite calm.

(Sidenote: The Exquisite Peace)

But the dainty little lady who lies fast asleep, with the sun resting caressingly upon her, has gained, in that mystical moment, both understanding and love. For there comes an exquisite peace upon her--as though she had found The Prince.

(The end)
Myrtle Reed's essay: Consolations Of Spinsterhood

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