The Steel-Engraving Lady and the Gibson Girl
THE Steel-Engraving Lady sat by the open casement, upon which rested one slender arm. Her drapery sleeve fell back, revealing the alabaster whiteness of her hand and wrist. Her glossy, abundant hair was smoothly drawn over her ears, and one rose nestled in the coil of her dark locks.
Her eyes were dreamy, and her embroidery frame lay idly upon the little stand beside her. An air of quiet repose pervaded the apartment, which, in its decorations, bespoke the lady’s industry. Under a glass, upon a gleaming mirror, floated some waxen pond lilies, modeled by her slim fingers. A large elaborate sampler told of her early efforts with her needle, and gorgeous mottoes on the walls suggested the pleasing combination of household ornamentation with Scriptural advice.
Suddenly a heavy step was heard upon the stair. A slight blush mantled the Steel-Engraving Lady’s cheek.
“ Can that be Reginald ? ” she murmured.
The door flew open, and on the threshold stood the Gibson Girl.
“ Excuse me for dropping in upon you,” she said, with a slight nod, tossing a golf club down upon the sofa near by. “ You see I’ve been appointed to write a paper on Extinct Types, and I am anxious to scrape acquaintance with you.”
The Steel-Engraving Lady bowed a trifle stiffly. “ Won’t you be seated?” she said, with dignity.
The Gibson Girl dropped into a low chair, and crossed one knee over the other ; then she proceeded to inspect the room, whistling meanwhile a snatch from the last comic opera. She wore a short skirt and heavy square-toed shoes, a mannish collar, cravat, and vest, and a broadbrimmed felt hat tipped jauntily upon one side.
She stared quite fixedly at the fair occupant of the apartment, who could with difficulty conceal her annoyance.
“ Dear me! you ’re just as slender and ethereal as any of your pictures,” she remarked speculatively. “ You need fresh air and exercise ; and see the color of my hands and face beside your own.”
The Steel-Engraving Lady glanced at her vis-à-vis, and shrugged her shoulders.
“ I like a healthy coat of tan upon a woman,” the Gibson Girl announced, in a loud voice. “ I never wear a hat throughout the hottest summer weather. The day is past when one deplores a sunburned nose and a few freckles.”
“ And is a browned and sunburned neck admired in the ballroom ? ” the other queried. “ Perhaps your artists of to-day prefer studies in black and white entirely, and scoff at coloring such as that ivory exhibits ? ” She pointed to a dainty miniature upon the mantel.
“No wonder you can’t walk in those slim, tiny slippers! ” the Gibson Girl exclaimed.
“ And can you walk in those heavy men’s shoes ? ” the Steel-Engraving Lady questioned. “ Methinks my slippers would carry me with greater ease. Are they your own, or have you possibly put on your brother’s shoes for an experiment ? If they were only hidden beneath an ample length of skirt, they might seem less obtrusive. And is it true you walk the streets in such an abridged petticoat? You surely cannot realize it actually displays six inches of your stockings. I blush to think of any lady upon the street in such a guise.”
“ Blushing is out of style.” The Gibson Girl laughed heartily.
“ Nor would it show through such a coat of sunburn,” the other suggested archly.
“ It very likely seems odd to you,” the visitor continued, “ who are so far behind the times ; but we are so imbued with modern thought that we have done away with all the oversensitiveness and overwhelming modesty in which you are enveloped. We have progressed in every way. When a man approaches, we do not tremble and droop our eyelids, or gaze adoringly while he lays down the law. We meet him on a ground of perfect fellowship, and converse freely on every topic.”
The Steel-Engraving Lady caught her breath. “ And does he like this method ? ” she queried.
“ Whether he Likes it or not makes little difference ; he is no longer the one whose pleasure is to be consulted. The question now is, not ‘ What does man like ? ’ but ‘ What does woman prefer ? ’ That is the keynote of modern thought. You see, I’ve had a liberal education. I can do everything my brothers do ; and do it rather better, I fancy. I am an athlete and a college graduate, with a wide, universal outlook. My point of view is free from narrow influences, and quite outside of the home boundaries.”
“ So I should have imagined by your dress and manner,” the Steel-Engraving Lady said, under her breath.
“ I am prepared to enter a profession,” the visitor announced. “ I believe thoroughly in every woman’s having a distinct vocation.”
The Steel-Engraving Lady gasped. “ Does n’t a woman’s home furnish her ample employment and occupation ? ”
“ Undoubtedly it keeps her busy,” the other said ; " but what is she accomplishing, shut in, walled up from the world’s work and interests ? In my profession I shall be brought in contact with universal problems.”
“ A public character ! Perhaps you ’re going on the stage ? ”
“ Oh no. I ’m to become a lawyer.”
“ Perhaps your home is not a happy one ? ” the Steel-Engraving Lady said, with much perplexity.
“ Indeed it is, but I have little time to stay there.”
“ Have you no parents ? ”
“ Parents ? Why, to be sure; but when a woman is capable of a career, she can’t sit down at home just to amuse her parents. Each woman owes a duty to herself, to make the most of her Heavengiven talents. Why, I’ve a theory for the entire reorganization of our faulty public school system.”
“ And does it touch upon the influence at home, which is felt in the nursery as well as in the drawing-room ? ”
“ It is outside of all minor considerations,” the Gibson Girl went on. " I think we women should do our utmost to purify the world of politics. Could I be content to sit down at home, and be a toy and a mere ornament,” — here she glanced scornfully at her companion, — " when the great public needs my individual aid ? ”
“ And can no woman serve the public at home ? ” the other said gently. Her voice was very sweet and low. " I have been educated to think that our best service was ” —
“ To stand and wait,” the Gibson Girl broke in. " Ah, but we all know better nowadays. You see the motto ' Heaven helps her who helps herself ’ suits the ‘ new woman.’ We ’re not a shy, retiring, uncomplaining generation. We ’re up to date and up to snuff, and every one of us is self-supporting.”
“ Dear me ! ” the Steel-Engraving Lady sighed. " I never realized I had aught to complain of ; and why should woman not be ornamental as well as useful ? Beauty of person and manner and spirit is surely worthy of our attainment.”
“ It was all well enough in your day, but this is a utilitarian age. We cannot sit down to be admired ; we must be ' up and doing; ’ we must leave ' footprints on the sands of time.’ ”
The Steel-Engraving Lady glanced speculatively at her companion’s shoes. " Ah, but such great big footprints ! ” she gasped ; " they make me shudder. And do your brothers approve of having you so clever that you compete with them in everything, and are there business places enough for you and them ? ”
“ We don’t require their approval. Man has been catered to for ages past, while woman was a patient, subservient slave. To-day she assumes her rightful place, and man accepts the lot assigned him. And as for business chances, if there is but one place, and I am smarter than my brother, why, it is fair that I should take it, and let him go without. But tell me,” the Gibson Girl said condescendingly, " what did your so-called education consist of ? ”
“ The theory of my education is utterly opposed to yours, I fear,” the other answered. " Mine was designed to fit me for my home ; yours is calculated to unfit you for yours. You are equipped for contact with the outside world, for competition with your brothers in business ; my training merely taught me to make my brother’s home a place which he should find a source of pleasure and inspiration. I was taught grace of motion, drilled in a school of manners, made to enter a room properly, and told how to sit gracefully, to modulate my voice, to preside at the table with fitting dignity. In place of your higher education, I had my music and languages and my embroidery frame. I was persuaded there was no worthier ambition than to bring life and joy and beauty into a household, no duty higher than that I owed my parents. Your public aspirations, your independent views, your discontent, are something I cannot understand.”
The Steel-Engraving Lady rose from her chair with grace and dignity; she crossed the room, and paused a moment on the threshold, where she bowed with the air of a princess who would dismiss her courtiers ; then she was gone.
“ She surely is an extinct type ! ” the Gibson Girl exclaimed. “ I realize now what higher education has done toward freeing woman from chains of prejudice. I must be off. I ’m due at the golf links at three-fifteen.”
When the sun set, the Steel-Engraving Lady might have been seen again seated beside the open casement. Her taper fingers lightly touched the strings of her guitar as she hummed a low lullaby. Once more she heard a step upon the stair, and once again the color mantled her damask cheek, and as she breathed the word “ Reginald ” a tall and ardent figure came swiftly toward her. He dropped upon one knee, as if to pay due homage to his fair one, and, raising her white hand to his lips, whispered, “ My queen, my lady love.”
And at this moment the Gibson Girl was seated upon a fence, swinging her heavy boots, while an athletic youth beside her busied himself with filling a corn-cob pipe.
“ I say, Joe,” he said, with friendly accent, “ just you hop down and stand in front of me to keep the wind off, while I light this pipe.”
And the sun dropped behind the woods, and the pink afterglow illumined the same old world that it had beautified for countless ages.
Its pink light fell upon the Steel-Engraving Lady as she played gently on her guitar and sang a quaint old ballad, while her fond lover held to his lips the rose that had been twined in her dark locks.
The sunset’s glow lighted the Gibson Girl upon her homeward path as she strode on beside the athletic youth, carrying her golf clubs, while he puffed his corn-cob pipe. They stopped at a turn in the road, and he touched his cap, remarking : “ I guess I ’ll leave you here, as I am late to dinner. I ’ll try to be out at the links to-morrow ; but if I don’t show up, you ’ll know I’ve had a chance to join that hunting trip. Ta-ta! ”
And the night breeze sprang up, and murmured : “ Hail the new woman, — behold she comes apace ! WOMAN, ONCE MAN’S SUPERIOR, NOW HIS EQUAL ! ”