THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB
THERE persists much of the harem in every well-regulated home. In every house arranged to make a real man really happy, that man remains always a visitor, welcomed, honored, but perpetually a guest. He steps in from the great outside for rest and refreshment, but he never belongs. For him the click and hum of the harem machinery stops, giving way to love and laughter, but there is always feminine relief when the master departs and the household hum goes on again. The anomaly lies in the fact that in theory all the machinery exists but for the master’s comfort ; but in practice, it is much easier to arrange for his comfort when he is not there. A house without a man is savorless, yet a man in a house is incarnate interruption. No matter how closely he incarcerates himself, or how silently, a woman always feels him there. He may hide beyond five doors and two flights of stairs, but his presence somehow leaks through, and unconsciously dominates every domestic detail. He does not mean to, the woman does not mean him to; it is merely the nature of him. Keep a man at home during the working hours of the day, and there is a blight on that house, not obvious, but. subtle, touching the mood and the manner of maid-servant and man-servant, cat, dog, and mistress, and affecting even the behavior of inanimate objects, so that there is a constraint about the sewing-machine, a palsy on the vacuumcleaner, and a gaucherie in the stovelids. Over the whole household spreads a feeling of the unnatural, and a resultant sense of ineffectuality. Let the man go out, and with the closing of the front door, the wheels grow brisk again, and smooth. To enjoy a home worth enjoying, a man should be in it as briefly as possible.
By nature man belongs to the hunt in the open, and woman to the fire indoors, and just here lies one of the best reasons for being a woman rather than a man, because a woman can get along without a man’s out-of-doors much better than a man can get along without a woman’s indoors, which proves woman of the two the better bachelor, as being more self-contained and self-contented. Every real man when abroad on the hunt is always dreaming of a hearth and a hob and a wife, whereas no real woman, if she has the hearth and the hob, is longing for man’s hunting spear or quarry. If she is indeed a real woman she is very likely longing to give a man the comfort of the fire, provided he will not stay too long at a stretch, but get out long enough to give her time to brush up his hearth and rinse his teapot satisfactorily to herself.
A man’s home-coming is not an end in itself, its objective is the woman; but a woman’s home-making exists both for the man and for itself. A woman needs to be alone with her house because she talks to it, and in a tongue really more natural than her talk with her husband, which is always better for having a little the company flavor, as in the seraglio. The most devoted wives are often those frankest in their abhorrence of a man in the house. It is because they do not like to keep their hearts working at high pressure too long at a time; they prefer the healthy relief of a glorious day of sorting or shopping between the master’s breakfast and his dinner.
It is a rare ménage that is not incommoded by having its males lunch at home. It is much better when a woman may watch their dear coat-tails round the corner for the day, with an equal exaltation in their freedom for the fray and her own. A woman whose males have their places of business neither on the great waters nor in the great streets, but in their own house, is of all women the most perpetually pitied by other women, and the most pathetically patient. She never looks quite like other women, this doctor’s, minister’s, professor’s, writer’s wife. Her eyes have a harassed patience, and her lips a protesting sweetness, for she does not belong to her house, and so she does not belong to herself. When a man’s business-making and a woman’s home-making live under the same roof, they never go along in parallel independence: always the man’s overlaps, invades. Kitchen and nursery are hushed before the needs of office and study, and the professional telephone call postpones the orders to the butcher. The home suffers, but the husband suffers more, for he is no longer a guest in his own house, with all a guest’s prerogatives; he now belongs there, and must take the consequences.
Fortunately the professional menabout-the-house are in small minority, and so are their housekeepers, but all women have sometimes to experience the upheaval incident on a man’s vacation at home; whether father’s, or husband’s, or college brother’s, or son’s, the effect is always the same: the house stands on its head, and for two days it kicks up its heels and enjoys it, but after two weeks, two months, that is, on the removal of the exciting stimulus, it sinks to coma for the rest of the season. The different professions differ in their treatment of a holiday, except that all men at home on a vacation act like fish on land or cats in water, and expect their womenfolk either to help them pant, or help them swim. They seem to go out a great deal, — at least they are always clamoring to have their garments prepared for sorties, social or piscatorial,—and yet they always seem to be under heel. Some men on a home holiday tinker all day long, others bring with them a great many books which they never read, and the result in both cases is that housekeeping becomes a prolonged picking up. All men at home on a vacation eat a great deal more than other men, or than at other times; but with the sole exception of the anomalous academic, who is always concerned for his gastronomy, they will eat anything and enjoy it, — and say so. A man at home for his holidays is always vociferously appreciative. His happiness is almost enough to repay a woman for the noise he makes, and the mess; yet statistics would show that during any man’s home vacation the women of the house lose just about as many pounds as the man gains. But what are women for, or homes?
After all, you can have a house without a man in it if you are quite sure you want to, but you cannot have a home without one. You cannot make a home out of women alone, or men alone; you have to mix them. Still every woman must admit, and every man with as much sense as a woman, that it’s very hard to make a home for any man if he is always in it. Every honest front door must confess that it is glad to see its master go forth in the morning; but this is only because it is so much gladder to see him come back at night.