THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB
FRANCE has always been clever and forehanded in arranging the marriages of her sons and daughters. Good Parisian fathers and mothers have this matter on their minds. Most of our own words that openly refer to such preliminaries are borrowed from the French: such words as escort, chaperone, rendezvous, beaux, bouquet, bonbon, vis-à-vis, tete-a-tte, and billet-doux, all the way up to the fiancee, the dot, and the trousseau..
But the latest matrimonial venture of Paris deserves, if we may say so, the Grand Prix. They have established (according to the report of an astonished British editorial) a GreenRibbon Club, designed and regulated expressly for ‘young men and women who are honestly in search of partners.’ To join this club, you must furnish full information as to worldly situation, and a complete moral and medical history, and you must openly declare your intentions in advance.
The London editor concludes with the wistful remark that ‘we are not informed what physical and moral defects bring down the blackballs.’ But one would infer there might be preferences in choosing among the Bourbons, the Rousseaus, the Lafayettes, the Apaches, and the Pasteurs.
To an expert in racial earmarks, the notion of the ‘complete moral and medical history’ sounds not entirely French. One suspects that this cardcatalogue idea came straight from the sterner lands of the Edwardses and the Jukes. But the Green Ribbon itself is Parisian enough; and, as with many a ribbon of France, there is a temptation to import it.
Would a Green-Ribbon club in New York or Boston ‘take’ ?
At i his point I hasten to remark that I myself am no longer eligible to this club, except as a graduate member of the board of trustees. My interest in the matter is founded on the fact that once in my early spinster days I had the temerity to chaperone and abet a mild American version of the GreenRibbon Club myself.
No member of it was, of course, outspokenly and ‘honestly’ in search. Quite the contrary. If one of the girls ever referred to her dawning friendship with one of the men, it was in some such terms as this: ‘There is no nonsense about him. He is just a great big brother to me.’
This choice coterie gathered without avowed purpose or ribbon or ritual, in the haphazard fashion in which America always opens the marriage mart. They happened to gather in my study, for I was keeping house by myself that year, in a tiny cottage at the end of a suburban lane. To reach my door, you left the busy city streets, and you walked a long and picturesque journey out from town; and, if you came on a Sunday afternoon, you found there a brisk assembly of other young free lances like yourself—conservatory graduates, masters of arts, electricians, college girls, and mechanical engineers. They all came ostensibly to see me, an understanding that brought with it an assured sense of safety, and a noncommittal footing that was vastly stimulating to us all.
I entertained no conceited delusions as to my own position in this scheme of things: I was an Approved Chaperone, by virtue of householding and diluted professorial rank. To these healthy young tramping couples, stranded in the city far from their own homes, I was a Beloved Destination, and no more. So I used to build up my fire with apple wood and pine cones, get out the music and the fudge-pan, and prepare for a meeting of the fraternity each Sabbath afternoon. The club itself adored itself. Its emblems should have been a log fire and a corn-popper, bordered in early springtime with globules of maple-sugar wax cooling on bowls of snow.
This sounds idyllic, and I would offer my services as trained duenna to any Green-Ribbon club that might be formed, if my spirit had not been broken by one memorable event.
It happened that one of the Great Big Brothers wrote from a distant city to one of the girls, making her an offer of marriage in the most unexpected way. She rushed over in a driving snow-storm to tell me, but I was out. So she pinned a note on my door, assuring me that, since she had no home of her own to take him to, they would be over to see me next morning, when he was to be in town for her answer.
At the time, I stood in complete terror of all couples newly engaged. Besides, I had an unbreakable appointment out of town. Therefore, failing to reach her either by messenger or telephone, I, in my turn, pinned a note on my door next morning, regretting my absence, enclosing a key, and telling my visitors they might come in out of the blizzard and talk over old times and use the Cape Cod firelighter on the logs in the fireplace, if they chose.
But as I went down the drifted steps of my bungalow, I remembered that I had left the window part-way open in my kitchenette, and I was afraid the pipes would freeze. Back I went, closing the front door against the snow. I darted into my kitchenette, and the swinging door between kitchen and study closed behind me as I went over to shut the window at the rear. It was stuck fast with frost and sleet. I pushed and pulled for many exasperated minutes, but it would not budge. At last, I climbed up on a shelf, so that I might grapple scientifically with it at close range. Absorbed with my efforts, I must have been dead to the world, because presently I became aware that there was a murmur of voices conversing in my study. With a great thud of my heart, it dawned upon me that the engaged couple had found my note, had let themselves in, and had made themselves at home. From what I could overhear, they must have been there some appreciable length of time.
Paralyzed, I found that I could overhear all too perfectly. A New England conscience of the tenth generation is pretty well run out; but what there was left of mine rose up in horror against eavesdropping at such an hour. They might, moreover, come in and find me at any moment, for my larder was always a communistic supplykitchen for starved gentry from the Siberian wilderness of restaurants and cafés. I thought of escaping by the window, as in the Perils of Pauline; but the window, of course, was stuck. I thought of heating the teakettle and unfreezing the window quietly with steam; but even so, there was a shedroof outside, along which I should have to climb in full view of the large windows in the study where my visitors were. Unless, like Falstaff, I could be carried out with the laundry, my escape must surely be seen.
Of course, by this time, I had let the perfect moment go by. I knew that I ought to have dashed out.at once, if I was going out at all. Here I indubitably was, entrapped in my own kitchen — listening, listening, like Polonius behind the arras; though I will say there was nothing much to hear. Still, it was morally impossible to remain there; equally unthinkable to emerge.
I remembered with nightmare irrelevancy that my costume was in my favor. At least, I looked the part of a person keeping an imperative appointment, out of town. I was completely appareled for the blustering winter weather, with goloshes on my feet, furry coat fastened high about my neck, and on my head, as Daisy Ashford would say, a small but costly hat. Buoyed up by the thought of my elegant haberdashery, my courage rose. Stepping down from my shelf, I began to rattle cosily about my kitchenette, humming a little tune, and clashing now the egg-beater, now a kettle-lid. As I clattered, I mentally swore a great oath that never never would I have to do with Big Brothers any more.
At this point, firmly clasping my umbrella beneath my arm, I walked into the study, just in time to witness the last mad endeavor of my callers to disengage the meshes of the young lady’s dark brown hair-net from the button on the sleeve of the young gentleman’s tweed suit. A hair-net knows how to wind itself thrice around a coatsleeve-button and tie itself neatly there, like a cobweb in a clovehitch.
My guests assured me that they were delighted to see me; but it is the memory of my incomparable stage entrance that forever dampens my enthusiasm for Green-Ribbon clubs. Such things are too disquieting for the tardy Anglo-Saxon mind. The French touch is needed to keep the situation chic. In the future, marriages must be made exclusively in Heaven, or in Paris; not, at least, within a three-mile radius of my kitchenette.
I was bitter, as wall be perceived, and my Poloni us-complex has persisted to this day. But though I shall not be responsible for such proceedings any more, the club life will not languish for lack of me. For the world is a club; and the Green Ribbon is every riverbank, and every strip of growing grass along the edge of a city esplanade, and every slender cat-tail leaf that swishes against the rim of a canoe. The Green Ribbon is also every shining blade of beach grass beside the board walk; every turf border of every tenniscourt; and the winding curve of all village roads and garden paths and country lanes. At the sign of these green ribbons, Aucassin still goes seeking Nicolette.
If we had the French instinct for form, we might organize this club. But with the individualistic Englishspeaking race, the discovery of a partner is usually casual and accidental in its preliminary details. It is one of the stock conversations of lovers, to retrace in memory the steps that led them to find each other. One slip in the time-table, and they might never have met. The devious path whereby two spirited young creatures travel the world to meet each other is the most mysterious itinerary under the orbits of the stars. No wonder the astrologers went to the horoscope for explanation of these strangely intersecting paths.
In the French Bible, the Psalmist praises God, ‘l’Éternel,’ for ‘ses grands exploits.’ Doubtless, we ought to translate that debonair French psalm into serious King’s English, and ‘ praise Him for his wondrous works.’ But for special occasions, it seems to me, we might keep it as it is, praising the Eternal for his grand exploits. The process by which men and women are led across the universe to meet their perfect partners is the chief exploit of the Eternal—a very miraculous and quite ungovernable thing.