THE TENDER GRACE OF A DAY THAT IS DEAD

Those early days of married life were very gay. We entertained
tremendously. We went out enormously. We lived in a perfect social
whirl. I enjoyed the privilege of wearing pretty frocks at luncheons,
dinners, and dances; of riding in the morning, and driving a Park
phaeton and pair of cobs in the afternoon, followed by two brown
collies, given me by Sir John Kinloch of Kinloch. One, “Ruby” by name,
went everywhere with me, and, clinging to her coat as she perambulated
round the dining-room, my babies learnt to walk. They were a pretty
sight, those two small boys in Lord Fauntleroy suits, tumbling about on
the hearth with the long-haired red collies.

How I loved going to Ascot and Goodwood, taking people down, or being
taken down, always feeling I could help to make things “go” and amuse
people. Then the dinners; we had eight or ten to dine every Sunday
night, quite informally, but as we usually lunched out and were away
all day, we used to do this in the evenings. All sorts of charming
people came, and I never enjoyed myself more than in the capacity
of a hostess. Alec sang well, and we collected good musicians about
us; Madame Lemmens-Sherrington, Madame Antoinette Sterling, George
Grossmith, Corney Grain, Eugene Oudin, all went to the piano in turn.

My husband was member of a dozen golf clubs, including St. Andrews,
Wimbledon, and Sandwich; and we took houses for odd months on different
links for the benefit of the children, who were looked after by two
excellent nurses, while we ran down to see them for week-ends or
slipped over to Paris for a few days.

We went to shooting parties in the autumn, to race-meetings in the
spring, were members of Sandown and Hurst Park, were constantly at
Ranelagh or Hurlingham, kept a couple of boats on the river (the river
was the height of fashion in the ’nineties) and generally enjoyed
ourselves.

* * * * *

As a rule, we always lunched at the old Harley-Street house on Sundays
when we were in town, went to all the theatres, and, in fact, lived a
thoroughly happy, gay, social life, with no thought for the morrow.

I still kept up my painting, did a quantity of embroidery from my own
designs for bedspreads, sideboard cloths, babies’ bonnets, or lapels of
dresses; once and again wrote a little, but the business of existence
was more amusement, and fun and spending, rather than making money and
saving.

Everything seemed gay and bright and I found life one continual joy.

Let Youth be happy and gay. It is the time to be irresponsible and
light-hearted. Years bring soberness. Life makes us wonder if the game
is worth the struggle. I suppose it comes to all of us at times to wish
to run away and hide ourselves as Tolstoi did. The rebellion of youth
against home restraint returns again in later years as the rebellion of
age against life’s thraldom.

And then, when the sky was blue, the bolt fell. We had been married
eight years.

Suddenly all was changed. My husband had joined a syndicate. The
syndicate failed. He had lost—lost heavily. Lost his capital.

* * * * *

Immediately our household was reduced to modest limits. Our
drawing-room was shut up, three servants dismissed, the horses sold.
For the first time in my life I was without a carriage. But, as Alec
was sure of earning money again shortly, we did not part with anything
which this income would make possible to keep.

Then a wonderful thing happened. A very dear old friend came to me.

“Ethel,” he said, “I am more than sorry, my dear child, for all that
has happened, but your husband will go back to business and all will be
well; meantime put that in your bank to tide you over and keep things
going as a weapon to fight fate.”

It was a cheque for two thousand pounds. Imagine my amazement, imagine
my pride at having a friend willing to make such a sacrifice; but, of
course, I did not take it. I could not take it, although I thanked him
from the bottom of my heart and promised if the necessity really came I
would go to him.

To give in one’s lifetime is true generosity, to bequeath after death
is often merely convenience.

* * * * *

But my husband never smiled again. Overpowered by grief at the position
in which he had placed his wife and children, he died six months later
in his sleep; died simply of a broken heart.

He was followed on the same journey only a few weeks later by my
father, who passed away quite as suddenly, with the ink still wet on
the paper of an article he was writing for the _Lancet_. He never
finished his article, neither had he altered an old will as he had
intended.

* * * * *

Three shocks had thus each followed the other in quick succession
without time to recover from one before the next came, and so in little
more than half a brief year the once happy daughter, wife, and mother
stood alone, stunned, reduced to comparative poverty, with children
clinging to her skirts. The two breadwinners of the family had gone out
almost together.

* * * * *

There was not time to think and mourn and let precious moments go by.
Something must be done. There was I with about as much to live on as I
used to spend on my dress.

Then my old dear friend came back to me.

“I admired your pride and your pluck six months ago,” he said, “when
you had a husband beside you to fight for you. But now, my dear child,
you are alone and you have the children to think of. I wish you to go
to your bank and put that two thousand pounds to your credit; and, more
than that, I wish to adopt you as my daughter.”




It was all so bewildering, so strange. I had known him all my life.
He was one of my father’s oldest friends. His wife had always been
charming to me and she had left me bits of jewellery when she died;
but again I had to refuse. He had relations. I could not claim that
privilege. Still he persisted.

“You have always been like a daughter to me—to us—and now I want to
claim the right to provide for you and your children.”

Still I refused. I promised again to go to him if ever I was in real
need; but I took nothing.

When he died others inherited all he had.

* * * * *

There are only two crimes in Society: one to be poor, the other to be
found out.

It seems to me that everything in life is relative. If one is born
poor, one does not know what it is to be rich, and if one is rich, one
does not understand the responsibilities of strawberry leaves, and
strawberry leaves do not comprehend the difficulties of a throne.

If things change, if one goes up in the world, one naturally
assimilates ideas and ways by merely taking on a little more of what
one already has; but if one slides back in life, one has to give up
what is part and parcel of one’s very existence. I was not born in a
back street or a country cottage or a suburban villa—in either of these
I might have lived in simple comfort on my small income—but that would
not have been _me_.

* * * * *

Bills came in on every side. Bills haunted me. Bills were nothing in my
old life when they were paid up every quarter; but even a few hundreds
meant sleepless nights of haunting fear to me now.

I took up my pen feverishly. Nine years of married life were ended. All
was changed. Still, during those first few months of shock, my father
yet lived, and I knew I could rely on his help, so it was not until the
late autumn of 1896 that I realised my position in all its cruelty.

* * * * *

Pause, readers, not to give me your sympathy, not to shed tears on what
is past, but to think of the future; pause and think, and pave the
paths for your daughters, wives, mothers, and sisters by settlements.

Yes, _settlements_. It is a cruel thing to let a girl leave a home
without a safeguard in proportion to the income of her family. It is a
crueller thing to bring boys and girls into the world with insufficient
provision for their education and maintenance.

This little book of a woman’s work will have served a good end if one
father, husband, son, or brother, sees what opportunities were lost by
no adequate provision being made for its author, when this could so
easily have been done. Settlements of some sort are as necessary as the
marriage ring, a health certificate is as important as the marriage
lines.

I feel strongly that every child born should have some kind of
provision made for its education and maintenance and to give it a start
in life. Both boys and girls should be treated exactly alike.

* * * * *

The unexpected change in my position showed me how kind the world can
be; how good and generous the bulk of humanity is. There are certainly
exceptions, and those generally where they should not be. But one
does not think of them: one turns to the geniality and little acts of
thoughtfulness that day by day come from friends in the truest sense of
the word, and I can only wish that mine could realise to what extent
they have greased the wheels of these working years. Little kindnesses
are like flowers by the roadside or sun-gleams on a rainy day.

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