And so it comes about that our virtues and our failings have more to do with the length of our legs than we think.
The other day I met in the street a young lady who, but yesterday, seemed to me a young girl. She had in the interval taken that sudden leap from youth to maturity which is always so wonderful and perplexing. When I had seen her last there would have been no impropriety in giving her a kiss in the street. Now I should as little have thought of offering to kiss her as of whistling to the Archbishop of Canterbury if I had seen that dignitary passing on the other side of the road. She had taken wing and flown from the nest. She was no longer a child: she was a personage. I found myself trying (a little clumsily) to adapt my conversation to her new status, and when I left her I raised my hat a trifle more elaborately than is my custom.
But the thing that struck me most about her, and the thing that has set me writing about her, was this: I noticed that her face was painted and powdered. Now if there is one thing I abominate above all others it is a painted face. On the stage, of course, it is right and proper. The stage is a world of make-believe, and it is the business of the lady of sixty to give you the impression that she is a sweet young thing of seventeen. There is no affectation in this. It is her vocation to be young, and she follows it as willingly or unwillingly as you or I follow our respective callings. At the moment, for example, I would do anything to escape writing this article, for the sun is shining in the bluest of April skies and the bees are foraging in the orchard, and everything calls me outside to the woods and hills. But I must bake my tale of bricks first with as much pretence of enjoying the job as possible. And in the same way, and perhaps sometimes with the same distaste, the Juliet of middle age puts on the bloom of the Juliet of seventeen.
But that any one, not compelled to do it for a living, should paint the face or dye the hair is to me unintelligible. It is like attempting to pass off a counterfeit coin. It is either a confession that one is so ashamed of one’s face that one dare not let it be seen in public, or it is an attempt to deceive the world into accepting you as something other than you are. It has the same effect on the observer that those sham oak beams and uprights that are so popular on the front of suburban houses have. They are not real beams or uprights. They do not support anything, or fill any useful function. They are only a thin veneer of oak stuck on to pretend that they are the real thing. They are a detestable pretence, and I would rather live in a hovel than in a house tricked out with such vulgar deceits that do not deceive.