To-day I put on an old gown, and there were revelations. It was not that disuse had cast its strangely disillusionizing spell upon it, and that what went into the moth-proof closet freshly colored and correctly fashioned came out dull and shapeless. For that I was prepared. I knew that it was a year old, and I was not surprised that it showed exactly twelve months’ variation from the present mode. It looked, as I knew it would, “good enough for everyday,” — beyond which a woman’s vocabulary holds no deeper damnation of fainter praise. It was in putting it on that my trouble began.
The gown was neither more nor less than I anticipated; but I — the fault was in me! — I was more! Gaspingly I hooked it together; then I surveyed myself. By letting out all the seams and piecing the lining, the waist might be “made to do.” I tried to loosen the collar, and the effort caused the blood to settle in my arms. But the skirt! I turned slowly. No Egyptian would have owned my profile. I sank into a chair and contemplated the situation. The gown was hopeless, and I was — nay, I am — fat.
An ugly word, as I reflected while folding my discarded raiment. No substitute ? no gently suggestive, delicately insinuating euphemism ? Plump, now ? From my youth up I was that. Stout ? Obnoxious adjective, barely tolerable as a noun. But to even that I had become, if not reconciled, at least acquiescent. Yes, there are worse words than stout; would that none of larger import might be applied to me! I slip into a kimono, return the accusing gown to the attic, and breathing hard, for the attic stairs are steep, drop into a Morris chair, tuck a pillow behind me, and ponder on “the little more and how much it is.”
Thus reclining I catch sight of an old chair; a very good chair still, although a part of my great-grandmother’s bridal outfit. It is stiff and narrow, with an uncompromising back and an inhospitable seat. I have always liked it; years ago I sat in it; now I lounge in a Morris chair, with a pillow at my back, and admire its lines. Near it is a high desk, built in days long gone, that I might stand while I read and wrote. Now it is topped by neat rows of rarely used books; my desk chair is softly padded; and near the Morris chair is a table with that last concession to the too luxurious flesh, a lap portfolio.
In my trip to the attic, from which I am at last recovering, I cast a glance of affection at a shrouded object in a far corner. It was my bicycle, which theoretically I still ride. I am not of those who adopt and relinquish a pursuit according to fashion. I have turned a deaf ear to the somewhat emphatic statements of my sister, that my oldest niece, whose legs have a spider-like power of elongation, is tall enough for a full-sized wheel, but that it is useless to buy a new one for her to smash; an old one, now, that is not in use would be just the thing. I agree and wish that I knew where one could be procured. In theory I still ride; actually it is — let me see: three years ago I had typhoid, and the year before that I was in France, and the year before that I had no proper suit, and the year before that I took the wheel into the country, where the roads really were impossible. Yes; it is seven years since I have ridden, except in theory. And my mind, started on athletic subjects, recalls the snowshoes that have hung from the rafters for as many winters, the skates that were too rusty for even the washwoman’s Jennie, the gymnasium class I used cheerfully to attend twice a week, the walking club I resigned from, the exercises I used to practice night and morning. Could I do them now ? That one with the diagonal movement of the arms above the head; and that other, with the rigid foot six inches above the left knee, the chest meantime well expanded and the torso tipped back ?
I collapse on to the couch this time; there is a box of chocolates near by, and as I nibble I ponder on the dietary rigors I used to undergo, the bran biscuits I munched and the puddings I refused, the entrées I denounced, and the cabbage I consumed, the gallons of cold water I drank and the cocoa that was to me an accursed thing. I cast a look at myself in the mirror opposite; I intend it to be withering and reproachful; but I cannot help seeing that the flesh puckers good-humoredly around the eyes, and that the mouth retains a contented curve. During the seven lean years the pain of my life cut hard straight lines around my mouth; in the seven fat years they have been largely eradicated; for happiness is a rare masseur.
Doubtless a good hard course of worry would reduce me more than the diet which I intend to begin to-morrow, or the exercise which I shall certainly institute next week. But on the other hand, I can hardly imagine anything that would worry me as most things did seven years and more ago. Barring the great sorrows of life, which when they come we must bear with that degree of fortitude that the grace of God may bestow, it seems to me that there is little that ought to shake our serenity. Cares and annoyances enough for all, and for some more than they can readily bear; but the blessed night drops its veil of silence and darkness between the days; the little comforts come as softly and almost as thickly as the flakes of snow; the routine of life, against which we inveigh in youth, is the strongest sedative in the middle years; the sun shines and the flowers bloom, and others are happy if we are not.
I have lost a good gown, and I mind me of the time when I have lain awake over less; but I know a minister’s wife in Idaho whom it will fit; and what is more, she will thank the Lord for it, which I never did. I switch on the light under the pleasant green shade. There is an hour before dinner, when we are to have sweetbread patties and marmalade pudding; I shall eat both, for I do not begin to diet until day after tomorrow. So I settle back in the Morris chair to enjoy a novel, undisturbed, though I am proved both fat and old.