A DOMESTIC CONVERSATION

SCENE: The family living-room.
CHARACTERS:
     Elaine, just from boarding school--seventeen, voluptuous and romantic.
     Helen, her mother, married to her first lover, and as ignorant of men, women and children as such mothers usually are.
     Ralph, the father, who had sowed a large crop of wild oats before marriage, and then, as is customary with men, serenely expects his children to be seraphs.
     Marie, his sister, twice a widow, and knowing human nature in all its complexity--childless, but better able to rear children than are their fathers or mothers.

Elaine, primping before the mirror in a new gown with a demi-train:
"Now I have finished school, put up my hair
And down my skirts, I think it is my right
To learn about the world which seems so fair.
I hear of girls who win all hearts at sight--
Tell me, dear parents, and dear aunt, I pray,
How can I make men love--"

The father, looking up from his paper, startled and angry:
                                      "Tut, tut, I say,
What sort of talk is this for chit like you!
Is that the theme you studied in your school?
That old Italian's theory must be true
About degenerates--"

Aunt Marie, quietly interrupting:
                         "Ralph, don't be a fool
(Tho' forty years you've stood upon the brink);
Elaine, but speaks what other girls all think."

The mother, mildly:
"Elaine is but a child!  She does not know
The meaning of the words she uses; she
Has not a thought that is not pure as snow.
There, Ralph, you've made our darling weep, you see;
You should not let your temper fly so loose."

Elaine, petulantly:
"I will not be set down for such a goose,
Mamma, as you would make me out: I'm sure
I know quite well what I am talking of.
Where is the sin, and, pray, what is impure
In craving knowledge of a thing like love?
I heard a man last night tell Aunt Marie
She must have taken the thirty-third degree
In Cupid's order! And the way he smiled
I know he did not think dear auntie bad."

The mother, looking troubled:
"Just hear her prattle on, the simple child."

The father, throwing down his paper and bursting out anew:
"A convent is the place for her! Egad!
She's too precocious! It's a pretty pass
When subjects such as these absorb a lass
Of seventeen!"

Aunt Marie, in an aside:
                    ("Her mother's years were less
By one, and yours by five, I think, were more
When you eloped! Nell lengthened down her dress
By letting out the hem the night before.
And Nell was not your first love, either. Queer,
How apples grow on trees, Ralph dear,
Now isn't it?")

Aloud to Elaine:
"Come close, my sweet Elaine,
Your father and your mother and myself
Will listen to your questions. Now be plain
(If that could be with such a charming elf);
Tell us your thoughts, reveal your very heart.
Who but your elders should life's truths impart?
Your father does but jest, and play a role;
Your mother too!  They both know, as I do,
That love is the germ, the purpose and the goal
Of every living thing; they know when you
Ask questions about love, it is because
You are a part of that Eternal Cause.
They know the maid or youth who does not muse
Or wonder over love the beautiful
Has missed imagination's sweetest use,
And must be ill, anemic or quite dull.
They know the danger, too, that lurks in dreams
Not anchored by some knowledge of such themes,
And they are glad to have this privilege;
Your confidence is love's sweet recompense.
Hide not behind your timid maiden hedge,
But meet us on the plains of common sense.
We all were young like you, once!  And all three
Were just as full of curiosity."

Elaine, shyly:
"Well--oh--there is so much I want to learn:
How to win love--I do not want to miss
This happiness in life!  And oft I yearn
To know the meaning of a lover's kiss--
I read of it in story, verse and song,
And yet some people seem to think it wrong."

The father, hastily:
"Wrong! Yes 'tis wrong--'tis very wrong.  In truth,
'Tis even wicked. It's a deed to shun."

The mother, hesitatingly:
"Until you are a wife!  Or if the youth
Has bid you name the day--why, then just one
Wee--little--kiss, perhaps, upon the cheek--"

Elaine:
"In books it is the lips men seem to seek."

Aunt Marie:
"A kiss is like a bee--a honeyed thing
One needs approach with caution.  In its sweet
Lies hidden oft a very cruel sting.
It is no sin to kiss--but more discreet
To keep your lips for love's pre-nuptial feast."

The father;
"I'd shoot the man down like a ravenous beast
Who from my daughter's lips should dare to brush
The bloom of innocence."

Marie, aside to him:
("Ralph, I recall the only time I ever saw you blush:
I caught you kissing Helen in the hall
Full three long months before you two were one.
How fortunate her father had no gun!")

Aloud, to Elaine:
"Be lovable and loving, would you win
The love of other souls!  To warmth, not cold,
The roses yield their fragrance.  Here within
The safe home garden let your heart unfold
Its treasures. Think, not idly sit and dream;
And be, nor rest content to merely seem.
The holiest thing in life is love's grand passion;
Make no light jest of it, nor dissipate
Your wealth of womanhood in idle fashion,
Pretending love, until you find, too late,
You have no feeling even to play the part.
There is no beggary like a paupered heart.
To be a woman is a glorious thing,
And to be beautiful and bright; ah, sweet,
When all is done, what talents you must bring
To lay down at the generous Giver's feet.
Be this your aim--that at the end men say,
'The world seems better since she passed this way."
                 (Exit Elaine.)

Marie, turning to parents:
"Deliberate criminals--colossal fools,
To bring a child to earth the usual way
And then to shut her with old maids in schools
And think your duty done!  To frown and say
'Shame,' when her growing mind would reach and climb
To those great truths that are as old as time.
To know her born of you and your desire,
Yet think her free from mortal passions!  Oh,
I wonder God's great patience does not tire
Looking on fools of parents here below."
      (Goes out and bangs the door.)

Helen, sighing:
"So queer, and such a temper!  It is plain
She's not the chaperone for our Elaine."

Poems of Power by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Chicago : W. B. Conkey, 1902.


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