THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB
IT is strange how persistently one is dogged and tracked down by one’s dreams. A dream is the toughest of living things. I myself have been hounded through life by an ideal. As an infant I burned with a spirit of adoption,expansive, indiscriminate,impersonal; while I was still of years to be myself coddled and kissed, curled, cribbed, scoured, and spanked, I imaged myself the mother of an orphan asylum. Still uncertain in speech, I lisped lullabies to armfuls of babies, of every size, sex, and condition. The babies were delivered at my door by packet, singly and by the dozen, in all degrees of filth, abuse, and emaciation. Vigorously I tubbed them, fed them, bedded them, patted them, or paddywhacked them, just as my maternal conscience demanded. Oh, it was a brave institution, that orphan asylum of mine; it solaced my waking hours, and at night I fell asleep sucking the thumb of philanthropy.
The orphan asylum lasted into my teens, and then it contracted, restricted itself in the sex and number to be admitted; but the spirit of things was much the same; for he was to be lonely and abused, world-worn and weary, and twenty-nine or thirty perhaps. Gladly would he seek refuge for his battered head on the wise and wifely bosom of sixteen. But he did n’t. The brisk little years came trudging along, and they carried him and my sixteenth birthday far and far away, but still the world, for all of me, was unadopted. Then the orphan asylum came sneaking back again, but this time it was only one, —one baby. Why could not I, I asked myself, when ihe days of my spinsterhood should be grown less busy, pick up a bit of a boyor girlthing, and run off with it, and have it for my own, somewhere in the house where Joy lives?
Then, while I dreamed of these things, I heard a little noise outside, and there at my door sat two waifs and strays whom fate and fortune had tossed and buffeted until they were forespent. I lifted up the hat of the one, and I undid the blessed bonnetstrings of the other, and lo, it was my parents; and here was my orphan asylum at last, fallen on my very doorstep!
Only consider how much better fortune had done for me than I should have done for myself! How much better than adopting an unlimited orphan asylum, a stray foundling, or a spouse ’so outwearied, so foredone,’ as the one previously mentioned, was it to find myself in a twinkling the proud possessor of a lusty brace of parents between whom and the world I stand as natural protector! Here is adoption enough for me. My orphan asylum, my foundling, my husband, might have been to me for shame and undoing. The asylum might have gone on a mutiny; the foundling might have broken out all over in heredil ary tendencies; for the choice flowers of English speech in which I should have sought to instruct its infant tongue, the vicious suckling might, have returned me profanity and spontaneous billingsgate; it might too have been vulgar, tending to sneak into corners and chew gum. These are not things I have reason to expect of my parents. As for a man, — a living, eating, smoking man, — I need not enlarge on the temerity of a woman who would voluntarily adopt into a wellregulated heart a totally unexplored husband.
No; if a woman will adopt, parents are the best material for the purpose. They will not be insubordinate; from the days when from the vantage of my high chair I clamored sharply with my spoon for attention, and received it, have they not been carefully trained in the docility befitting all good American parents? Nor, being in their safe and sober sixties, are they likely to blossom into naughtinesses, large or small, so that the folk will shoot out their lorgnettes at me, sneering, ' Pray is this the best you can do in the way of imparting a bringing-up?' — And how much better than an adopted husband are an adopted father and mother! They will not go about tapping cigar ashes over my maidenly prejudices; they will tread gingerly and not make a horrid mess of my very best emotions. Yes; to all ladies about to adopt, I recommend parents.
I warn you, however, that you must go about your adopting pretty cautiously. It is never the desire of the genuinely adoptive to inspire awe, still less gratitude. The parent becomes shy under adoption; at first he recoiled from my fire that warmed him, and she held back from my board that fed her. They flagrantly declared that they wanted to go home, — their own home, the home that was n’t there. But I held on to them, affirming that I had caught them, fair prey in a fair chase, and never, never would I let them escape into any little old den in a great waste world that they might have the bad taste to prefer. At this they sulked, courteously, resignedly. Worst of all, they looked at me with the strange eyes with which one regards that alien to all men, a benefactor. The adopter must be patient, — waiting, showing slowly how shabby it is of parents, when their children give them bread, to give them in return that stone, gratitude.
Thus, after a while, the parents will find themselves growing warm and well-fed and cosy and comfortable, and they will begin to put forth little shoots of sprightliness and glee. Instead of concealing their shabby feet under petticoats and desks and tables, out will come the tattered seam and worn sole, and, ’Shoe me, child!’ the parent will cry. Or, when one goes tripping and comes home again, the parents will come swarming about one’s pockets and one’s portmanteau demanding,
' What have you brought me, daughter?’ These are the things the adopter was waiting and watching for, and wanting.
Thus my dreams have come true, my ideal has found me. In the streets and on the trolleys of the world I am no longer a stranger. ’Allow me, sir, my turn at the car-strap, none of your airs with me, if you please; despite petticoats, I, too, am a family man. I am none of your lonely ones; I, also, belong to a latch-key, have mouths to feed, have little ones at home.’ At the sound of my key they will fly down the stairs, fall upon and welcome me in to my hearth and my slippers, and together in the fire-glow, the parents and I shall have our glorious topsy-turvy Children’s Hour.
You, sir, who elbow me going businessward, are you plotting surprises for birthdays and Christmas Days and holidays and other days? So, too, I. Sometimes a pretty little check comes in, not too small nor yet so big as to be serious. Then I scamper over the house until I find him. The rascal knows what’s coming. We regard the check right-side up first, then over I flip it on its face and write, ’Pay to the order of-and by that time down he is and deep he is, among those precious book-catalogues previously annotated, noting wantonly, like the prodigal father heaven made him.
Do you, sir, in your pride and fatness, marshal your brood to the theatre? So I, mine. And do the eyes of your brood, that is young, glow and brighten, twinkle or grow dim, as you watch, half so prettily as do those of my brood, that is old? Can you, you commonplace, sober-going fathers and mothers of families obtained by the ordinary conventions of nature, know the fine, aromatic flavor of my fun?
What exhilaration have you known like my pride of saying, ‘Whist you, there, parents out in the cold world, in here quick, where it is warm, where I am! in, away from that bogey, Old Age, who will catch you if he can, — and who will catch me, too, before the time, if I don’t have you to be young for! ’