The Beloved Conservative


EVERY child, declares Gilbert’s rhyme,

That ’s born into this world alive,
Is either a little Liberal,
Or else a little Conservative.

J. O. H. was of the latter persuasion, even when being wheeled in a go-cart about the “ Washington Square ” of the small city of her birth. She was a conservative element in Miss Wicks’s School for Very Young Ladies. Even then she had a kindness in her heart for society as it is, and viewed it by the pleasant light of a shaded lamp. Fate intended her to correct my radicalisms — a happy fate kept her in store to be the comrade of my early-middle years. It was foreordained that we should beguile the long windy autumn evenings of our mountain home with discussion and argument rather than with piquet and cribbage.

J. O. H. has the brow (and bonnets) of a conservative. The stillness and pleasantness of her look belong to that character, as my uneasy air betrays me for a contentious woman. The hairs of my head are belligerent, and form cowlicks in the midst of a smooth part. These are not to be mistaken for “ escaping tendrils,” “ playful, wayward locks.” They are brusque and uncompromising, and seem, as the Psalmist says, " to speak with a stiff neck.” Though informed that they are not becoming, I value these signs of character in my appearance. I am a holder of opinions — one who takes sides. I never use the dodging expression, “ I don’t know enough about it to judge.

I am like my dear Aunt F., who could, and did, fly into a burning indignation over events in Portland and San Francisco. Well I remember the noble passion she displayed over the case of the elderly German who shut his wife up in a bureau drawer. My aunt was peacefully sewing when some one read this item aloud to her from the Tribune. She started up, and threw down her work. Her blood boiled, she said. She wished she had been present! She wished she had been his wife. Could the victim of the bureau drawer have seen my aunt then, as, pacing up and down our small parlor, she charged an imaginary jury, well might the meek frau have exclaimed,—

“ O for a single hour of that Dundee ! ”

Very different is the beloved conservative. She confides all these affairs to the local authorities. There is nothing pleasing to her in the illusion that she is living next door to the actors in these unquiet scenes, or harboring a reporter on her doorstep. I cannot, at first, always drag her into a controversy. She often incenses me by remarking that “ there is probably another side of it.”She even interrupts me by introducing some family matters, which naturally are far from mv thoughts. Have I called on the Taconie Avenue ladies ? Did I remember to leave an order for the stage? What a spoke is this last in my wheel! I never remember to leave an order for the stage.

Such checks, however, have no lasting effect on me. Unlike Miss Press, I begin to exaggerate when no one contradicts me. Contradiction is what I want and must have. Eventually I can always provoke the beloved conservative into a mild word or two for the defendant. She is sometimes foolhardy enough to try to season my indignation with some such remark as “ Those wrinkles a t the top of your nose are getting very deep.”

This I regard as beneath my notice. When I become eloquent about the misuse of wealth, she says only that she knows many just and kind rich people in the world, and supposes there are many more whom she does not know. Blacker and blacker I paint the wrongs of my clients. What though I am hurting an unoffending cause by such vivacity of statement ? I am not arguing for any cause, but enjoying a glorious sport. I underscore everything I say. Triumphantly I tell of oppression and cunning and fraud. It is an ill wind of man’s inhumanity to man that will not blow some good to my argument. I am rejoiced if I can remember another and yet more pitiful tale. If the beloved conservative questions any of my tall statements, I quote a good authority for them. Sometimes, a few moments later, I begin to wonder where I found those statistics. I feel inclined to look up the reference. Strange that I cannot find it! The facts all ought to be on my side.

Our discussions do not always arise from timely topics in the papers. They are sometimes artificially introduced. By the kind grace of Heaven, J. O. H. and I disagree on almost every matter of public right and policy. Our views may coincide about mere housekeeping or family matters; but academically we are foes to the knife. Our differences of opinion are so well grounded, and have such a fine vitality, that one or other of us may even say, as we enter after dinner that long room lighted only by the fire, where we spend so much of our cosy solitude, —

“ Let’s argue this evening.”

“ Very well — what shall it be about ? ”

“ What do you say to kindergartens ?”

“ Why, we’ve had that once this week. Let’s take up the automobile.”

Automobiles are very promising. They are sufficiently remote to be calmly discussed. If we argue about unions, or strikes, one or both of us may have to read Dr. Syntax “ In Search of the Picturesque ” before we can sleep.

J. O. H. holds correct conservative views on property, warships, higher criticism, vegetarianism, education, psychical research, Canon Nineteen, etc. The necessary exception to the rule is in a surprising direction. (I do not refer to her opinion, which agrees with mine, on vivisection. Who but posterity can decide which side of that dark question is truly radical, which truly conservative ?) But this gentle, this thoroughly feminine J. O. II. is not an anti-suffragist! Nay: should the gentlemen of her country offer to escort her to the polls, we should promptly behold the beloved conservative tripping forth, in her pretty little shoes, to cast a Republican ballot. She would not willingly set one of those little shoes on Mr. Asquith’s geraniums; and yet I think she sometimes ruminates as she pays the taxes on this pleasant house, meadow, and orchard. I have made some deductions from this and other facts. At times I feel convinced that this beloved person is conservative only because she cannot endure any further wear and tear on her sympathies; because the church, the school, the town, the club, the S. P. C. A., her friends, — her letters, — her contrivings and plannings for distant relations, — leave little room on her not too broad shoulders for new burdens. To hear of wrongs she cannot help gives her only an aching pity, not a bracing indignation. Or perhaps, although she has a secret bias toward our camp, she is warned away by my example, and the noble saying of Bishop Wilson: “Intemperance in talk makes a dreadful havoc in the heart.”