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Elizabeth and Her German Garden Part 8

Minora does not like either Irais or myself. We very soon discovered that, and laugh about it when we are alone together. I can understand her disliking Irais, but she must be a perverse creature not to like me.

Irais has poked fun at her, and I have been, I hope, very kind; yet we are bracketed together in her black books. It is also apparent that she looks upon the Man of Wrath as an interesting example of an ill-used and misunderstood husband, and she is disposed to take him under her wing, and defend him on all occasions against us. He never speaks to her; he is at all times a man of few words, but, as far as Minora is concerned, he might have no tongue at all, and sits sphinx-like and impenetrable while she takes us to task about some remark of a profane nature that we may have addressed to him. One night, some days after her arrival, she developed a skittishness of manner which has since disappeared, and tried to be playful with him; but you might as well try to be playful with a graven image. The wife of one of the servants had just produced a boy, the first after a series of five daughters, and at dinner we drank the health of all parties concerned, the Man of Wrath making the happy father drink a glass off at one gulp, his heels well together in military fashion. Minora thought the incident typical of German manners, and not only made notes about it, but joined heartily in the health-drinking, and afterward grew skittish.

She proposed, first of all, to teach us a dance called, I think, the Washington Post, and which was, she said, much danced in England; and, to induce us to learn, she played the tune to us on the piano.

We remained untouched by its beauties, each buried in an easy-chair toasting our toes at the fire. Amongst those toes were those of the Man of Wrath, who sat peaceably reading a book and smoking. Minora volunteered to show us the steps, and as we still did not move, danced solitary behind our chairs. Irais did not even turn her head to look, and I was the only one amiable or polite enough to do so. Do I deserve to be placed in Minora's list of disagreeable people side by side with Irais? Certainly not. Yet I most surely am.

"It wants the music, of course," observed Minora breathlessly, darting in and out between the chairs, apparently addressing me, but glancing at the Man of Wrath.

No answer from anybody.

"It is such a pretty dance," she panted again, after a few more gyrations.

No answer.

"And is all the rage at home."

No answer.

"Do let me teach you. Won't you try, Herr Sage?"

She went up to him and dropped him a little curtesy. It is thus she always addresses him, entirely oblivious to the fact, so patent to every one else, that he resents it.

"Oh come, put away that tiresome old book," she went on gaily, as he did not move; "I am certain it is only some dry agricultural work that you just nod over. Dancing is much better for you." Irais and I looked at one another quite frightened. I am sure we both turned pale when the unhappy girl actually laid hold forcibly of his book, and, with a playful little shriek, ran away with it into the next room, hugging it to her bosom and looking back roguishly over her shoulder at him as she ran. There was an awful pause. We hardly dared raise our eyes. Then the Mall of Wrath got up slowly, knocked the ashes off the end of his cigar, looked at his watch, and went out at the opposite door into his own rooms, where he stayed for the rest of the evening. She has never, I must say, been skittish since.

"I hope you are listening, Miss Minora," said Irais, "because this sort of conversation is likely to do you good."

"I always listen when people talk sensibly," replied Minora, stirring her grog.

Irais glanced at her with slightly doubtful eyebrows. "Do you agree with our hostess's description of women?" she asked after a pause.

"As nobodies? No, of course I do not."

"Yet she is right. In the eye of the law we are literally nobodies in our country. Did you know that women are forbidden to go to political meetings here?" "Really?" Out came the note-book.

"The law expressly forbids the attendance at such meetings of women, children, and idiots."

"Children and idiots--I understand that," said Minora; "but women--and classed with children and idiots?"

"Classed with children and idiots," repeated Irais, gravely nodding her head. "Did you know that the law forbids females of any age to ride on the top of omnibuses or tramcars?"

"Not really?"

"Do you know why?"

"I can't imagine."

"Because in going up and down the stairs those inside might perhaps catch a glimpse of the stocking covering their ankles."

"But what--"

"Did you know that the morals of the German public are in such a shaky condition that a glimpse of that sort would be fatal to them?"

"But I don't see how a stocking--"

"With stripes round it," said Irais.

"And darns in it," I added, "--could possibly be pernicious?"

"'The Pernicious Stocking; or, Thoughts on the Ethics of Petticoats,'"

said Irais. "Put that down as the name of your next book on Germany."

"I never know," complained Minora, letting her note-book fall, "whether you are in earnest or not."

"Don't you?" said Irais sweetly.

"Is it true," appealed Minora to the Man of Wrath, busy with his lemons in the background, "that your law classes women with children and idiots?"

"Certainly," he answered promptly, "and a very proper classification, too."

We all looked blank. "That's rude," said I at last.

"Truth is always rude, my dear," he replied complacently. Then he added, "If I were commissioned to draw up a new legal code, and had previously enjoyed the privilege, as I have been doing lately, of listening to the conversation of you three young ladies, I should make precisely the same classification."

Even Minora was incensed at this.

"You are telling us in the most unvarnished manner that we are idiots,"

said Irais.

"Idiots? No, no, by no means. But children,--nice little agreeable children. I very much like to hear you talk together. It is all so young and fresh what you think and what you believe, and not of the least consequence to any one.

"Not of the least consequence?" cried Minora. "What we believe is of very great consequence indeed to us."

"Are you jeering at our beliefs?" inquired Irais sternly.

"Not for worlds. I would not on any account disturb or change your pretty little beliefs. It is your chief charm that you always believe every-thing. How desperate would our case be if young ladies only believed facts, and never accepted another person's assurance, but preferred the evidence of their own eyes! They would have no illusions, and a woman without illusions is the dreariest and most difficult thing to manage possible."

"Thing?" protested Irais.

The Man of Wrath, usually so silent, makes up for it from time to time by holding forth at unnecessary length. He took up his stand now with his back to the fire, and a glass of Glubwein in his hand. Minora had hardly heard his voice before, so quiet had he been since she came, and sat with her pencil raised, ready to fix for ever the wisdom that should flow from his lips.

"What would become of poetry if women became so sensible that they turned a deaf ear to the poetic platitudes of love? That love does indulge in platitudes I suppose you will admit." He looked at Irais.

"Yes, they all say exactly the same thing," she acknowledged.

"Who could murmur pretty speeches on the beauty of a common sacrifice, if the listener's want of imagination was such as to enable her only to distinguish one victim in the picture, and that one herself?"

Minora took that down word for word,--much good may it do her.

"Who would be brave enough to affirm that if refused he will die, if his assurances merely elicit a recommendation to diet himself, and take plenty of outdoor exercise? Women are responsible for such lies, because they believe them. Their amazing vanity makes them swallow flattery so gross that it is an insult, and men will always be ready to tell the precise number of lies that a woman is ready to listen to. Who indulges more recklessly in glowing exaggerations than the lover who hopes, and has not yet obtained? He will, like the nightingale, sing with unceasing modulations, display all his talent, untiringly repeat his sweetest notes, until he has what he wants, when his song, like the nightingale's, immediately ceases, never again to be heard."

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