Utcunque Ventus

THERE is no goddess but the Dryad, and every woman is her prophet. We who go down to the streams in rough clothes and wading boots need have no qualms if, from the bridge, we are viewed by those wearing fine linen and carrying parasols; and though we stand waist-deep in the roadside growth, knapsack on shoulder, as the automobile passes, we may meet without flinching the stare of goggled eyes. For we are of the fashion, and we and they know it. Far, indeed, have we come from the day when Miss Austen’s ladies, not having shoes to encounter the remains of a white frost, turned back to the house; far, indeed, from the anxieties of her Emma, to whom a country mile proved too much for solitary female walking. The ideal of womanhood has for more than a century been gathering self-reliance and strength. Nervous endurance the heroine always possessed; the tears and trials of Clarissa or Amanda would have sorely overtaxed any mere Man of Feeling.

But, under the tutelage of Scott she developed her physical frame by outdoor exercise; and the successor of Diana Vernon and Anne of Geierstein, though no adept in horsemanship and the scaling of precipices, inherited a hardiness of constitution which Cooks might emulate and Amundsens adore.

Through the pages of Augusta Evans the leading lady toiled and suffered without remission. She was no passive and liquid prey to the arts of a later Lovelace; although the walls of piety and domesticity had again risen round her, the Christianity of her conduct was both militant and muscular. No mere hero, however granite his lips or satanically sneering his laugh, could shake her insistence upon right religious and political principles; and few were the heroes who could mate her either in physical asceticism or intellectual athletics. Hebrew and comparative theology were her evening relaxation. She ate nothing, slept rarely, took no exercise, never smiled, invariably looked wan but exquisite, and spent all the time not required for repelling her suitors in the product ion of a prose so mournfully grand as to bring tears to the eyes of the best New York society.

But this state of things could not last. Confinement indoors, after the taste of liberty which the Author of Waverley had permitted, was not to be long endured. Moreover, the constant use of the Encyclopædia, the Dictionary, and Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, palled upon the growing heroine; and perhaps an aggressive and spotless isolation irked a creature supposedly gregarious. Round the card swung the wind of fancy, and off with the inkstand blew the learning, the proud reserve, and alas! the morals of the leading lady. She was no more to be found stooping wearily over her manuscript or uttering profound reflection in her lonely observatory. She continued, it is true, to sit up all night; but across the noisy pages of the story floated the smoke of her cigarette; and her forte was neither purity, piety, nor philology, only an unreasoning, reprehensible devotion to the hero.

It was an attitude which even unskilled labor could quickly assume, for the accessories demanded no deep study. A little French, a fondness for horses and music, a smattering of the jargon of the studio, a visiting acquaintance with the manners of the underworld; these and a hardy endurance of either privation or neglect, so it be for love’s sake, sufficed. The scene might be set in Algiers or Devonshire, Paris or Munich; but its general features were much the same, with wine, women, and song, smoke and goodcomradeship, shabby velvet jackets or gorgeous uniforms, paint-brushes, swords, horses, and fiddles; all crossed by the shadow of a mystery or a renunciation such as no gentleman’s library could be without, and all redolent of youth, ardor, generosity, lawlessness. In short, Bohemia; and in those seacoast havens the heroine’s craft rocked gayly.

But the wind of fancy has again changed. The land of fiction, which we chart and re-chart, has further shifted its boundaries. The sign, ‘Here have you Bohemia,’ is no longer pinned over the cabaret of smoke and absinthe, the attic of the easel, and the table heaped with papers; it hangs at the entrance to the forest trail. And it is a poor heroine who cannot follow; as Mr. Chainmail said to the Rev. Dr. Folliott, it is no disqualification for sylvan minstrelsy not to know an oak from a burdock. We will talk no more of flagons of ale in the Devonshire inns, of franc bottles of wine in the Boul’ Miche; we will not linger even in the salon where dukes and dignitaries court the notice of a humble but brilliant lacly-companion. It is but to push back the volumes of heraldry and history, the atlases and dictionaries of argot, and run over the new vocabulary. One has no difficult task; one has only to discourse of the murmuring pines, the bird-enchanted hills, the silence of the moors, the stir of lulling rivers, above all of the open road. The open road, specialists aver, possesses greater powers of temptation than did the closed door of Bluebeard or of Maeterlinck. Everything calls down it, from the day-star to the daisy; and its practical merit, as compared with the highroad of Mr. Pickwick and the stage-coach, is that, on it one arrives not. One walks perpetually therein, uplifted, palpitant, yet meeting no adventure, no mystery — but the mystery of nature.

For the inexperienced heroine who has hastily exchanged her paintingdress for khaki, this meeting of nothing is a boon indeed. With meetings there come incidents, emotions; one must gather knowledge to report of such doings. But with a mere handful of phrases one may go far on the new trail. Take no thought for an expensive journey or the purchase of an outfit; to capture that impression one need not confer with distances. The call of the wild may echo as freshly over a roll-top desk as ever did Roland’s horn along the vale of Roncesvalles; and the summons of the daystar was very likely heard by one who wrote beside a seven-coil radiator, to the ground tone of the Elevated. Man triumphs over circumstance, woman also.

Do you fancy that I sit upon the rockered porch of a ten-dollar-a-weck summer hotel? You err; I am a solitary in the pines. I may to the material eye wear a white duck skirt and wait at the postoffice for the evening mail; but my astral body, in khaki and gaiters, is kneeling by the roadside fire over which I cook my vagabond meal. And my blanket lies by me, and the stars await the dark.